Categories
Review

Sakura Wars review – heartfelt, over-the-top anime romp

Originally conceived back in 1996 as a way to offer an RPG franchise on the Sega Saturn, the original Sakura Wars series was a mix of the visual novel, dating sim, and round-based strategy combat. It follows an all-female theatre troupe based at Tokyo’s Imperial Theatre, putting on shows as the Flower Troupe to keep the spirits of the populace high, while also acting as the Imperial Combat Revue, a paramilitary operation tasked with defending the capital from monsters. To do so, they use mechs called Kobu, powered by the strength of their spirit.

With its anime stylings and a cast of lovable protagonists, the franchise became a wild hit in Japan before its fate was sealed along with the Dreamcast. The west only saw the localization of the last Sakura Wars game, Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love, it’s New York setting and all-new cast considered a good entry point into a series often deemed to be too Japanese.

This new Sakura Wars constitutes a soft reboot, set a decade after the events of the originals, and using established gameplay but featuring a completely new cast. You take the role of Navy ensign Seijuro Kamiyama, who becomes the Flower Troupe’s new captain. It’s your job to help restore the Imperial Theatre to glory and keep Tokyo safe. In order to make a gaggle of women into a real team, you need to get to know them, help them overcome personal struggles, and realize their true potential.

With its anime stylings and a cast of lovable protagonists, the franchise became a wild hit in Japan before its fate was sealed along with the Dreamcast. The west only saw the localization of the last Sakura Wars game, Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love, it’s New York setting and all-new cast considered a good entry point into a series often deemed to be too Japanese.

This new Sakura Wars constitutes a soft reboot, set a decade after the events of the originals, and using established gameplay but featuring a completely new cast. You take the role of Navy ensign Seijuro Kamiyama, who becomes the Flower Troupe’s new captain. It’s your job to help restore the Imperial Theatre to glory and keep Tokyo safe. In order to make a gaggle of women into a real team, you need to get to know them, help them overcome personal struggles, and realize their true potential.

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As Seijuro, you spend your time either talking to these women or fighting demons in Musou-style action combat. Sakura Wars’ dialogue is built around the series’ patented LIPS system: you get three dialogue choices, but only have a limited amount of time to pick an answer. The dialogue options themselves are recognizable if you’ve ever played another game with dialogue choice – you have a good option, a cautious option, and a sleazy, impulsive one. There’s also ‘analog LIPS’, a conversation option where what Sejiuro says is predetermined, and you only settle on the intensity with which you want to say it.

Just like in a visual novel, the answers you pick determine the other character’s opinion of you. Each of the women conforms to established personality types – the bookish one, the short-tempered one and so forth – and you get to know them better the more you talk to each of them. If you gain a character’s trust, you can trigger a ‘trust event’. In this event, which uses first-person POV, one of the women will have a personal chat with you that will end in some PG-13 touching. These situations can be deliberately naff – one character just wants to practice a romantic scene in a play – but they are, and this is important, fully consensual and does not reduce the young women only to their bodies, even while ogling is definitely going on. Context and nuance are very important here.

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Action combat is new for the series, and a step away from Sakura Wars’ more typical Fire Emblem-Esque turn-based strategy. You can freely move your Kobu around, use light and strong attacks, and unleash a special attack once a spirit point meter has filled. Both in combat and in conversation, your actions influence your team’s opinion of you. Fighting quickly without getting hit raises team morale, which in turn has an effect on attack and defense. Making the girls like you outside of combat also determines your starting morale.

The story of the new Sakura Wars is quickly told: the old Combat Revue, including teams from other countries that appeared in previous Sakura Wars entries, died in a grand battle to seal away the powerful Archdemon, saving the world from certain destruction. Of course, it turns out that the Archdemon threat is still very real and reveals itself just when the Flower Troupe is participating in the Combat Revue World Games, a public battle event determining the reputation of several international combat troupes because clearly saving the capital against monsters isn’t enough already.

Sakura Wars is firmly dating sim/visual novel first, combat second, as it belongs to a genre of games called ‘gal games’ – dating sims for heterosexual men. The player controls a male protagonist in a setting where they’re almost exclusively surrounded by young, beautiful women, and players may ‘pick’ their favorite. In Japan, gal games are part of the mainstream, so much so that dating sim elements are a natural part of many games you know – take the Fire Emblem or Persona franchises for example. While there are many gal games that take dating to misogynistic, demeaning extremes and borderline illegal territory (I drew the line at Tokyo Mirage Sessions, for advertising often misogynistic and borderline illegal practices in a real industry), Sakura Wars remains above board.

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Sakura Wars does regularly dip into bouts of panty humor, having you find women’s underwear or ‘ending up’ in a women’s bathroom for comedic effect. This sort of humor might be immature to western audiences, but it’s a result of a culture that treats bodies in a very different way. I can’t laugh about it, but I understand why it exists. I’m split into the borderline creepy dialogue options, which include asking for a kiss or making sexually ambiguous jokes.

It’s important that, unlike other games that paint you as the hero no matter what you say, these options are always penalized – you’re explicitly encouraged to be a good person, and that expectation entails giving players an option to be bad. I do however need to point out that the creepy options are always played off for laughs, which is pretty jarring considering the overall respectful tone.

Sakura Wars’ real strength lies in the passion with which it delivers its story. Designed like a TV anime, complete with episode previews and title cards for ‘ad breaks’, it focuses on a different member of your troupe with each chapter, while also driving the overall story forward.

The plot doesn’t even remotely make sense and I didn’t mind in the slightest. Nothing about the game is smart, it even spoils its own plot several times with ‘clever’ foreshadowing and likes to fix the problem using deus ex machina. “How is this possible?” a character says at one point about a surprising twist in their favor, only to receive the answer “I don’t know, but it is!”… Okay

The plot is silly and the combat’s simple, but I loved spending time with the main characters and seeing what they have to say and how they react to the increasingly high-stakes plot developments. And boy, do they react. There are life and death situations, fisticuffs, and battles set to the triumphant title theme while characters discover their true strength thanks to the power for friendship. The passion all but incinerates your screen. What’s not to love? It may not make sense, but each episode has a clear dramatic arc that resolves satisfyingly.

Also, Sakura Wars just looks consistently great: each scene is presented from multiple camera angles and almost-static images and anime sequences offer further visual variety. The different environments, while little more than pretty backgrounds for conversations are detailed and the design of each main character is memorable. I do miss the instantly recognizable style by Kosuke Fujishima, who has designed the characters for previous installments -here, mangaka Tite Kubo of Bleach fame takes over. The designs of the new mechs, however, is a new favorite of mine, each coming with their own specialties like a giant hammer or an ice pistol. The demons don’t really get a chance to stand out in battle – if you look closely you can see them stumble and fall overdramatically like kaiju in old Japanese monster films. Everything about Sakura Wars is as over the top like an old monster film, but it’s that very cheesiness that had me enraptured.

They don’t make ’em like Sakura Wars anymore, probably with good reason, but this new incarnation, like the old games, is earnest, unapologetic anime nonsense, and wish-fulfillment at its best.

 

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News

The wait is over! Final Fantasy VII Remake is out

What a time for the long-awaited Final Fantasy VII Remake to come out. In a morbid way, it’s perfect. Quarantine has affected people in different ways; some people are losing their minds, other people are learning a new language. Gamers are having the time of their lives and it just got better.

Final Fantasy VII Remake has released and it’s about darn time. Radiant reviews for the game have kept fans on the edge of sanity as anticipation has slowly, painfully eaten away at the last, little bit of patience we have.

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Thrown once again into the city of Midgard where the corrupt Shinra company mercilessly drains the life-force of the planet, fans will have the opportunity to replay the story of Cloud in what is arguably the best graphics to date.

Cloud Strife once again enchants players with his stoic, sexy attitude while he explores the slums of Midgard, and tags along with AVALANCHE. Determined to bring down Shinra company, Cloud and his noble friends fight to save the planet–while doing some sidequests and dart-throwing competitions in the magical free time they have between acts of terrorism.

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The goal of the game is to be a reimagining of the original that, in its time, redefined RPGs and boldly crossed socially acceptable lines by throwing in some cross-dressing and cross-breeding. Don’t worry, if you haven’t heard or seen, the cross-dressing made it into the remake.

The battle system takes on a new mechanic that is reminiscent of Final Fantasy XV, though improved–thank god. The hybrid systems merge real-time action with strategy and command-based mechanics that are both engaging and challenging without being too confusing.

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Go deeper into the story while enjoying the realistic rendering of favorite characters and places. Final Fantasy VII Remake is now available for the PlayStation 4 and computer system.

Check out more on the game here. If you’re impoverished for loss of job thanks to this very serious virus, check out the free demo here, and keep dreaming. Or, watch other people play the game on Youtube.

Categories
Tech Review

Razer BlackWidow Tournament Edition V2 Keyboard Review – Clicky Goodness

Razer is something of a divisive force within the PC peripheral industry with many viewing them as over-priced while others have a near fanatic love of their products. As for me, I’ve only had my hands on some of their stuff over the years, so I feel like I went into this review fairly open-minded. And now what? I’m impressed.

The Tournament Edition of the Blackwidow that I’m reviewing here is a tenkeyless board meaning it comes without the Numpad on the right which vastly reduces its footprint. At 36.5cm x 15cm just with no extra space given over to the macro or media keys, this is a reasonably small keyboard, making it a good choice for people who like to have a small, tidy desk or like to keep their arms close together when gaming or other things. If you fancy something bigger there is always the full-sized BlackWidow.

The build quality is generally great across the board. There is decent feeling of weight to the keyboard without it being absurdly heavy, certainly fitting given Razer’s desire to present it as a good choice for traveling between E-sport events, and the plastic casing doesn’t flex, creak or otherwise give any indications that it’s anything less than solid. With that said the lack of a metal back plate as seen in other keyboards at this price point is a shame since it helps give a more high-quality feel, although it undoubtedly helps keep the price down.

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As a bonus there is even a padded wrist-rest sporting the Razer logo included in the box that magnetically attaches to the keyboard, and frankly it’s bloody awesome. There are a myriad of rests available on the Internet in a vast variety of sizes, but it’s nice to see a keyboard come with one specifically designed for it. It’s a faux leather material with a reasonable amount of padding underneath which strikes a good balance between being soft enough for comfort yet firm enough to make it feel like it can survive the everyday rigors of gaming and typing. And being magnetic you can move the entire rest around your table in case you’re like me and prefer to have your keyboard at an angle when gaming. Take heed other keyboard manufacturers.

So, no media or macro keys, no audio pass-through, and no USB slots. There aren’t many frills on this little beast, then, the only exception being Chroma, which is, of course, Razer’s patented  LED RGB lighting system. Control is handled through Razer Synapse, and I actually had some issues here: The 3.0 beta version of the software would see the Basilisk mouse I was testing at the time but not the keyboard, while the non-beta version of Synapse would detect the keyboard but not the mouse. Currently, at the moment it seems the 3.0 version of Synapse doesn’t support all the previous Razer devices, so depending on what you have hooked up you may need two versions of the same software running.

Once you get all of this nonsense sorted out, though, Chroma is pretty damn good. Razer has made some bright, striking LEDs that handle the color spectrum rather well. With that said there are a few flaws, like how white comes out looking more like a slightly blue-grey and the yellow seems tinged with green to my eyes. These are common problems with RGB LEDs, however, and besides these gripes, I was generally very impressed with the quality of the lighting. Sure, for a lot of people RGB LEDs are a stupid gimmick, but for those folk, they can simply be turned off completely. For those like myself, there is something childishly delightful about having your desk lit up like a firework show.

Coming back to the software the Razer Synapse suite is perfectly okay. It looks a bit dull but is easy to navigate and provides all the options you’d generally expect. Every single can be remapped using a drop-down menu that includes launching programs, mouse functions, and much more, or you can assign it a macro that you can easily record. Everything can be saved to profiles that you can flick through using a shortcut.

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Lurking underneath the keys are Razer’s own brand of a switch, in this case, the greens which have a loud click when activated that makes them perfect for typing and for annoying anyone else within a 5-mile radius. These guys need 50g of force to get them moving and have a 1.9mm  activation point along with a total of 4mm of travel. Cherry might dominate the market when it comes to keyboard switches, but honestly, these Razer ones felt just as good. There’s a little bit of wobble in the keys themselves but nothing major and the experience of both typing and gaming felt great. At the same time I was reviewing this board I was testing out Alienware’s AW568 which used Kailh Brown switches which technically require 5g less force to push and yet somehow felt stiffer and heavier. These, though, were much better for me. They might be heavier but they felt light and fast, and my typing speed didn’t deviate from its normal 110 words per minute or so, plus there was that little weird bit of me that got a jolt of pleasure from the clicking sounds. Seriously, what is it about a clicky keyboard that’s so damn satisfying?

In-game performance is predictably brilliant. I say predictably because these days almost any mechanical keyboard will be perfectly responsive for gaming. There are the expected 1000Mhz polling rate and the anti-ghosting/N-Key rollover technology combination that allows multiple keys to be pressed at the same time and still registered. The end result is that during gaming I never noticed any failures when it came to detecting a keypress, nor did I ever feel like the keyboard wasn’t responding quickly to my every whim and stupid decision.

In short, I freaking loved typing and gaming on this board. The greens give way with a satisfyingly tactile feeling before a loud, spine-tingling click can be heard.

The only potential issue with the switches is longevity. Cherry switches have been around long enough that we have a very clear idea of how durable they are, but Razer’s own brand of switches is harder to judge, so while they might feel great now there is always the possibility that six months down the line there will be problems. As always I’d advise taking the time to check out forums and other communities where people who have had the keyboard for a while can provide some details on longevity.

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That’s an unknown, though. All I can talk about is the here and now, and in that sense, the BlackWidow TE V2 is brilliant in my estimation. Now, to be fair the roughly £110 asking price is high, and the lack of extra features for that sort of cash may very well be a turn off for many people. I do feel they could have provided audio and/or USB pass-throughs without compromising on size. But personally, I don’t tend to want macro keys or even media controls as they go largely unused. Nor do I miss the Numpad on the right or the lack of passthrough options. If you’re like me and appreciate this more streamlined, compact design then the Blackwidow TE V2 is a fantastic choice boasting great switches and beautiful RGB LED lighting.

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Board Game Review

Stuffed Fables Review – Enchantingly Fun

As a child – which is assuming I’ve actually progressed mentally from that point, which I clearly haven’t – I had freaking loads of teddies in the shape of monkeys and apes that had pride of place on my bed, their job is to defend me from the potential horrors that lurk within dreams and to act as unwilling test dummies for attempts at performing wrestling moves. Years later I found a drawing online of a teddy bear wielding a tiny sword standing over a young girl as a towering monster leans over them. It’s a beautiful little drawing, a perfect illustration of the importance of a teddy bear. And now here we are with a board game that brings this idea to life.

This is a breathtakingly gorgeous game that practically demands you look at it, admire it, and drool over its beautiful, detailed miniatures and its spectacular artwork. The bag of minis you get look amazing once painted, as proven by some of the photos posted on Reddit and Boardgamegeek.com. Even if you don’t feel like trying to paint them they still look superb straight out of the box and really help to bring the stories to life. Also in the box, you get some shiny buttons that act as currency, and all the cards sport lovely art. The only hiccup is that you don’t get an awesome insert to hold it all properly, or even any bags to put the decks of cards into.

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These pieces are used to tell the enchanting story of a young girl who has just graduated to the big-girl bed, moving from the safety of her crib and its wooden bars. This move brings danger in the form of the evil Nocturnus, though, and thus it is up to the small girl’s faithful teddies to fend off the evil and ensure she gets a good night of sleep. Along the way Theodora, Stitch, Lumpy, and others will deal with their child’s blanket being stolen, the dangers of bedwetting, dark forests and so much more.

Rather than a board, you get a chunky tome of a storybook filled with maps on the left-hand pages, and rules and stories on the right. It’s almost like a choose your own adventure book that’s gotten brought into the modern age with sublime art and an ultra-cute narrative. The beginning of the right page always details any special set up rules for that portion of the story, and then after that, you’ll read specific sections based on what happens throughout the game while also making choices on how you wish to progress. Given the focus on child-friendly gaming it’s perhaps no surprise that’s it’s very, very hard to actually lose, instead, the game gives you numerous ways to get to the end of each adventure.

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Now, it’s here that we hit one of my very few criticisms with Stuffed Fables, which is that the story and the gameplay don’t quite mesh, at least not in my view. The rules, as we’ll chat about, are quite easy to learn, yet an age of 7+ is still recommended and I’d agree with that as there are a few tricky concepts, but the story feels more like it would connect with children around age 2-4 due to many of the tales dealing with things like bed wetting, or the potential scariness of moving to a big bed. That doesn’t mean that older children won’t still enjoy the cutesy narratives of stuffies (as the teddies are known) fighting enemies, using pencils as weapons and rescuing blankets in the name of defending their little charge, I just feel like the designers didn’t match the age needed to understand the gameplay with the perfect age for the story as well as they potentially could have.

My second problem? Well, as you read through the game some of the rules and wordings can be tricky to parse, which can slow the game down, especially if you’re trying to herd children through the adventure as well. My advice is to read ahead of time to become familiar with everything so that you never have to slow things down.

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Everything you can do on a turn is controlled by five dice you draw randomly from a bag. White dice are rolled straight away to grant you extra stuffing which acts as health, while the black dice are added to the to threat track which determines when the bad guys get to do their bad guy things. With those out of the way you can check out the remaining dice; any color can be used for movement, so you just roll as many as you like and move that many spaces around the map, the only exceptions being special environmental hazards that can’t be moved through or that require you to spend a die of the matching color. Red die and green die are used for melee attacks and ranged attacks respectively, though you can only do either of those things if you happen to have a matching weapon. As for the blue dice they have no specific use, but do appear in various skill checks and other situations. Yellow die are again used in a lot of skill checks and special situations, but can also be spent to search for useful items. Finally, pink dice can be used for anything you want, but they don’t get any bonuses from cards.

Along the way, you’ll be fighting various nasty creatures, including creepy spider-like beings with doll heads and chunky bosses who will try to steal items and run away with them. Fighting them is as simple as rolling as many melees or ranged dice as you want, adding any bonuses from your weapons, and then checking to see if the total is higher than the defense value listed on the enemy’s card. If it’s higher then the enemy is beaten, the exception being bosses who might take a couple of hits to put down.

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As for the enemies they activate when the number of black dice on the threat track is equal to or higher than the number of baddies in play. When this happens you roll a black die for each enemy, consult its card and do what it says. They’ll always move towards the nearest possible target barring any exceptions stated in the book. and then they’ll attack using the range and amount of damage shown on their card while also dishing out any special abilities they might have, many of which force players to take a variety of status cards like being scared or torn. Players can store a dice on their character card’s for use later, or they can use it to defend against an attack by rolling it and reducing the amount of damage by that number. If they block all the damage they get to keep the die.

The enemies taking their turn also triggers all the dice that have been used thus far being added back into the bag, refreshing the stock.

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On top of each Stuffy’s special ability, they also get three more skills that can be used by spending heart tokens, and these tokens get earned by doing Lost cards (more on them soon) or during events that take place throughout the story, such as investigating a spot or making a key decision.

But fighting doesn’t take up as much time as you might think after all this is a family game about a little girl. Scattered around the maps are little icons that you can interact with to draw a card from the Lost deck, giving you little encounters with a variety of people, creatures, and odd things, like a ticking time-bomb or someone being bullied. These cards offer simple choices, usually about whether or not to help out or investigate and all of them serve to strengthen the game’s messages, like how sometimes lending a hand will net you a reward in the form of a cool item while other times you’ll get a simple thank you, and both are fine. In fact, the end of each storyline has a “talking points” section which suggests things to discuss with any kids playing with you which is a fantastic little touch.

If there are not any enemies lounging next to the threat track then when there are black dice equal to the number of stuffies a Surge occurs, triggering whatever event the book tells you about. Sometimes it might be the arrival of baddies to fight, either a randomly generated encounter or a pre-determined one, and other times it might be having to do something like revealing a sleep card. These again can do special things depending on the story you’re playing.

There are group tests as well where everyone can contribute a die or dice of the correct color to a track next to the threat track. More co-operation opportunities come in the form of being able to “encourage” another stuffy by giving them a dice or even sharing your stuffing with them, and that’s important because while you can’t die in Stuffed Fables you can lose all your stuffing and collapse, leaving you a bit useless for a while.

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You can even gather up new items for your Stuffy to equip. One way of doing this is using the yellow dice to perform a search action; if you beat the number listed at the top right of the page you get to draw the top item from the item deck for free. You can also visit shops in order to spend buttons that you acquire by beating up the bad guys. Whichever way you choose to get new stuff you’ll get to use pencils as weapons, glue to stop foes from moving and buckets as armor. Again, it’s all just so damn cutesy. I freaking love it.

As you move through each story, often swapping pages as you travel to a new area, you’ll get to trigger lots of different events that get read out by whoever is the Bookeeper for that round. The quality of the writing does tend to vary and has a few issues with swapping between the first and third person at times, but for the most part the writing is solid enough, especially when you consider it’s aimed at children. Your jaw isn’t going to drop at the marvelously crafted narratives or the complex tales of morality hidden beneath the surface or anything like that, but I can guarantee you’ll still be smiling the whole way through. I love it in the same way that at the age of 26 I still love Disney movies and animated films.

You even get special story cards that you don’t look at prior to embarking on a game, instead only grabbing cards as and when instructed by the book. This helps bring an extra layer of discovery into the game that my little nieces loved, and there are even divider cards that list what cards should be where so that you can re-assemble the discovery decks for later, or you can simply mix the cards in with the regular decks as you finish each story.

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If I had any other gripes with the game it’s this; at about 60-90 minutes a single game feels a bit too long for younger children. I think 60-minutes should be the max, rather than the typical running time. With that said, this is a relatively easy game to “save” provided you have a few bags.

It’s so easy to see why Stuffed Fables has become a huge hit. It seeks to create a fantastical child-like wander through its tales of teddies defending their beloved child and succeeds at almost every step. Yes, I don’t feel like the age-range of the story quite matches up with the age needed to understand how to play the game, and yes, it’s not a particularly deep game nor one that has amazing mechanics, but none of these things stopped me from loving every moment of it. It’s a wonderful family game that’s easy to learn yet still satisfying to play, tells fun stories with solid life-lessons, and looks beautiful as well. Best of all while it’s clearly aimed at children a group of adults can still have a superb time taking on the roles of brave teddies defending their child from the world.

Categories
video game

Fort Triumph Review – Fantasy XCOM

Do you like the idea of XCOM? But don’t like how it basically revels in torturing your very soul until it turns you into a blubbering wreck of a human being? Then Fort Triumph might be for you! After spending a few years in Early Access on Steam, Fort Triumph has finally got its full release to very little fanfare. So let’s shine a light on it and see if it’s worth playing.

The story is based upon some pretty typical fantasy and RPG archetypes with a group of four heroes (A Mage, a Paladin, a Rogue, and a Berserker) trying to find some work. To make itself stand out a bit though, Fort Triumph goes for absurdism fantasy and a bright, cartoony visual style that reminds me of the Warcraft games. The Mage, for example, is way too academic and would do anything in the name of gathering data, plus she’s maybe a bit too happy to Channel her power. Meanwhile, the Paladin is overly naive and fights for truth and justice and all that, and is having a bit of a debate about whether maths is acceptable since Paladins are taught that numbers are a terrible thing.

Humour is the strong point of the story. Without any voice acting not every joke lands, but there were a few lines that made chuckle, and as a fan of Terry Pratchett I have a soft sort for absurdism fantasy. The four heroes are quite likable too, in a very basic way since they have all the depth of a drop of snail pee.

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You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the names of these daring adventurers. The way that Fort Triumph handles its cast of four characters is…strange. See, even the initial four champions that you get can die. Depending on whether you’ve chosen perma-death or not they will either be gone completely, or they’ll be waiting for you to buy them back from a nearby city. Either way, you can go into a story mission with a rookie hero you’ve recruited at the nearby tavern, or indeed without any of the original characters whatsoever.

What Fort Triumph does at this point is to grab the strongest character you have that represents the class of your missing heroes, and then just rams those new named characters into the story. This new person with a new name will somehow take on the personality of their predecessor, and the rest of the gang will simply carry on as nothing happened. They’ll chat about things like their friend never died, and there isn’t a strange new person standing around. They’ll talk about stuff that never happened to this new character like it actually did happen to them. It’s weird. The developers really needed to think about the story they wanted to tell, versus the fact they wanted to include character death.

By comparison, the new Gears Tactics uses a system where certain characters can’t be permanently killed, while others can be. It’s a mish-mash, but at least it does allow the story to work while still allowing some of your squad to perish if you screw up.

The actual story itself is bolstered by a few fun characters but is mostly dull with nothing truly memorable. There’s a couple of moments where it feels like chunks of the narrative are missing, too. Especially the end of chapter two leading into chapter 3.

If you’ve ever played XCOM or anything of that ilk you’ll be instantly familiar with the gist of how Fort Triumph works – you and the enemy take turns moving characters around the place, spending Action Points to do things like attack or use special abilities. Unlike many other games though, you’re also free to swap between your heroes at will, and attacking won’t end their turn automatically. That gives you a lot of freedom when it comes to planning out how to tackle the enemy.

All the action takes place on relatively tight maps and most characters have quite a lot of movement available to them. Because of this and the fact that there’s also a lot of melee-based characters cover isn’t quite as important as it is in other games.

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The thing that sets For Triumph’s turn-based gameplay apart is the use of a very basic physics system. You can happily sidle up to a tree and then kick it so that it topples onto an enemy, or you can boot a rock into someone so they rebound off a wall. This can trigger chain reactions, too, so if you kick a goblin into a pillar the pillar will then fall and damage the enemy behind that. It’s not just kicking, either: a mage can throw a blast of wind to shove scenery and enemies around, while a ranger can use grappling hooks and special arrows to do the same. Best of all you can activate another of your heroes’ Overwatch ability. Kick a goblin out of cover, for example, and that can set off your Ranger’s Overwatch, sending an arrow flying across the room and into the goblin’s skull.

It really does make for some fun opportunities and makes you look at the battlefield differently than you normally might. There’s even skills that let you shift allies, enemies, and bits of the scenery around. That giant bit of rock might look better over there, and might just setup another hero for a fantastic combo. Later levels in the campaign even introduce earns that do a variety of things when smashed, giving you some extra options to play around with.

But as fun as squishing a spider underneath a tree might be, and it is indeed rather enjoyable, it can’t hide the fact that Fort Triumph is a very light tactical experience. To be fair, that’s somewhat of an unjustified criticism: it isn’t trying to be a deep game that plumbs the depth of your tactical brilliance. But it’s still worth mentioning that if you’re looking for the next XCOM this isn’t it. Fights are often over in a matter of just a couple of turns, positioning helps but isn’t key since the cover is so easily annihilated and characters can typically move a great distance.

I also found that since the game follows the XCOM style of letting you use every character in a single turn and the campaign typically lets you go first, it was possible to utterly decimate most of the enemy at the start. This was especially true when using high-level characters. You’ll also find that certain combinations are absurdly strong. For example, it’s possible to let your melee heroes retaliate against any melee attack against them, then combine that with another ability that heals the entire team when they kill an enemy. With these in place, you can march a high-level Paladin or two straight into the middle of the enemies, and then watch as the A.I. merrily feeds its units to their waiting hammers.

As for the way the game handles death, you get two options: proper perma-death does just that, killing off any characters who get their arses whooped in a fight. The second option lets you recruit fallen heroes from a city’s tavern, albeit at quite a high price.

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Whether you opt to get your fallen comrade back from the dead or just spend a few coins on a rookie for your squad you only get a choice of four measly classes: paladin, rogue, mage, and berserker. As they get leveled up you can choose to improve existing skills and pick out new ones that are presented to you in random order. There’s a tad more variety thrown into the mix in the form of the four different races (Trolls, Undead, Goblins, and Humans) each having some inherent bonuses. Owing to their size Trolls can act as cover for other units, while the diminutive Goblins can take cover far more effectively. As for the Undead, they aren’t affected by pesky things like bleeding or being blinded owing to their lack of blood and eyeballs. Still, it just doesn’t feel like quite enough, and it doesn’t help that there aren’t a lot of character models, either. One Ranger will look almost identical to another and will play nearly the same, too.

Outside of kicking over trees and smashing faces, Fort Triumph goes a bit Heroes of Might & Magic on us. Basically you’ll take turns moving around a map where you can pick fights with groups of enemies, visit special areas that provide a bonus, and hoover up all sorts of artifacts. You can even have multiple groups of heroes trotting around the world. Meanwhile, the A.I. is doing the same, so you need to fend them off or even capture their cities while also tending to the story missions.

Notice that I mentioned capturing cities. Don’t worry, as the responsible new owner of a slightly damaged city you don’t actually have to concern yourself with the day to day running of your new acquisition. Basically each city you grab increases the number of heroes you can have running around, though each individual group is limited to five characters. It’ll also generate money that you can then use to hire new heroes or construct buildings. These buildings will provide a bunch of potential benefits, like the infirmary increasing health. The exact buildings you get to pick from depends on the race who owned it previously.

All in all the campaign will probably take you around 6-10 hours to complete. Interestingly, there are campaigns for the other three races, but they’re all greyed out. The only information I could find about this game from the Steam forums where the developers said that “Yes, there’s only one campaign with three-story acts. We might add more in the future, but this is still only in the realm of ‘perhaps’.” Um, why have them on the menu at all, then?

Once you’ve run through the campaign you can always head into skirmish mode where you can pick from the four races, choose one of the three map types, and jump into a game.

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There’s a collection of annoyances that seem to have magically carried over from XCOM. To start with, the way the game calculates your odds of hitting a ranged attack seems to use some form of mathematics hitherto undiscovered by humanity. I’ll be buggered if I can make sense of it, but sometimes you’ll have a visually perfect shot at an enemy standing in the open but Fort Triumph will only give you a 30% chance of hitting it. And then sometimes the most awkward angle and a bad guy behind a pillar will equal a 90% chance.

Then there’s the fact that arrows and magic spells passing straight through solid objects frequently, which again brings up the question of Fort Triumph’s maths work. Other visual problems include the action camera zooming in to show a rock or a pillar.

As we’ve discussed before, oh glorious readers, sometimes you don’t want something complicated that makes your head hurt from all of the tactical and strategic possibilities. As awesome as XCOM 2 is, it’s hardly a relaxing game to play. Fort Triumph, however, takes great joy in being a straightforward game where you can zone out a little, enjoy the bright colors and engage your brain just enough to stop you from becoming a complete and total couch vegetable.

Categories
News

Weekend Whammy: PS5 News, Weird Game Logic & Extraction

Well, my week is going swimmingly. The madness of lockdown seems to have permeated my brain, hence this week I yelled at a tree, had a random fit of the giggles, and spent most of a day wrapped in a duvet eating crisps. But on the other side of the spectrum, my nieces have been writing letters to myself and my parents as a way of communicating. They wrote me a little short story, so I say down and jotted down a four-page tale of them and their parents fighting nasty goblins, including setting one goblin’s pants on fire. I know, healthy, wholesome stuff to be telling a 6-year-old about. Anyway, this week I’m chatting about some Playstation 5, the baffling weirdness of leveling up, and why Extraction was pretty good.

But first I need to do some of that self-advertising malarkey! The review I stuck up this week was for MotoGP ’20, which I thought was pretty solid, though I personally prefer TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge 2. Go give it a read!

My review of Fort Triumph is going to be coming soon, too, and then I’m moving onto Gears Tactics which I managed to snag thanks to a generous donator. But since my review won’t be up for a while you could always go check out the wonderful Skill Up and his thoughts on what looks to be a brilliant game. In fact, that same video made me start looking up Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle for the Switch which looks to be right up my alley.

I don’t know why exactly this happened with Fort Triumph and not any other game, but at one point my Paladin leveled up amidst a pillar of light and cacophony of horns and I began to wonder what the NPCs make of it. Can you imagine being them and suddenly this strange person in your world bursts into a pillar of light, some loud music comes from nowhere and the words “Level Up!” appear in the sky?

Mind you, NPCs must put up with so much other random shit, too. They’re just walking along, minding their own business, and suddenly this idiot goes hopping past then stops dead and stares vacantly into space because the player is busy on the map. And then he vanishes into the thin area, reappearing like half a continent away. Or, maybe you’re sitting at home when some numb-nuts with a sword waltzes through the front door, steals all your stuff, and breaks all your chests. Being a shop opened must be weird, too: this big adventurer comes into, doesn’t say a word then suddenly starts producing mountains of armor and weapons out of a non-existent infinite backpack.

And do you think the NPCs see the “game saved” sign? I wonder if they know that those two little worlds probably herald a gruesome death at the hands of a psycho player who wants to murder everyone for a laugh. That their families will be slaughtered before them? And then magically restored before their very eyes. Yup, NPCs must see a lot of very, very weird things.

So what weird videogame logic that we take for granted but is actually quite bonkers when you think about do you guys think about?

Anyway, I’ve been playing a lot of XCOM: Chimera, the new budget-price spin-off from the main series. I’m around 12-hours in with a lot of campaign yet to play, so considering I played £8 for it that’s amazing value for money. It actually tries a lot of things that are radically different to XCOM 2 like ditching perma-death, having a squad of pre-baked characters, and the fun new breach mechanics. So far I’m really enjoying, though it has a lot of glitches. And all of the aliens sound like they’ve lived on Earth their entire lives and speak “snark” and “quirky.”

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Moving on we’ve got some intriguing information about the PS5. I’ve said a few times now that I believe the next-gen consoles won’t make it to market this year, partially due to potential problems in sourcing parts and potentially because people just don’t have money to spare right now. But then Bloomberg just had to go and do some journalism and fancy-pants fact-checking and make me look like a complete berk. Cheers for that, Bloomberg.

According to Bloomberg’s sources, Sony is indeed committed to launching PS5 this year. And that will only change if Microsoft pushes their console back to 2021, although if that did happen I can imagine Sony would love to have the market to themselves for a while.

Apparently, Sony has told its assembly partners that it intends to produce 5-6 million PS5 consoles by the end of the fiscal year in March of 2021/ Previously the PS4 sold around 7.5 million units in the first couple of months, so based on that the PS5 could be hard to get hold of.

Of course, getting a PS5 depends on whether you can afford it. The price tag is rumored to sit anywhere between $450-550. That number seems to be getting backed up by developers predicting $500-550. That would make sense as prior estimates put the components at about $480. Meanwhile, the new DualSense controller has a lot of extra, pricey tech in it, raising the overall price closer to that $550 mark. Unless Sony is willing to take a loss on its consoles, which it has done before.

Bloomberg says its sources believe Sony intends on using the PS4 as a bridge while PS5 stock is limited. The hope is to draw people onto the Playstation network, and to that end, the same sources say Sony will consider cutting the price of the PS4 when the PS5 launches in order to tempt people to subscribe to Playstation Now and Playstation Plus. From there they will hopefully make the jump to next-gen at a later date.

And finally, there may not be any sort of conference to unveil the PS5 proper, which isn’t surprising. But I’m sure they’ll hold some sort of digital reveal. Regardless, Covid-19 has certainly mucked up Sony’s marketing plans. The DualSense controller reveal seemed sudden, and Bloomberg’s sources state that the controller was announced in a hurried fashion.

To me, this seems brave on Sony’s part. With all their big games, and indeed everyone else’s, probably facing delays that could leave their PS5 launch weak on games to buy. Couple that with the crippled economy and people having to be careful with their money, and they could be looking at a very difficult console launch.

This week I checked out Extraction on Netflix, the new action movie starring Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. The plot (which is based on a graphic novel of the same name) follows a merc by the name of Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) as he is recruited to rescue the young son of a drug lord. It’s basically one long escort mission with the central theme being one of redemption as Rake reconnects with himself through the kid he’s rescuing. It’s a fine idea, except that I found massive chunks of the dialogue to be poorly written. In particular, an exchange between Rake and the kid about two thirds into the film was horribly bad.

BUT! And it’s a big, giant butt! The action in Extraction is simply outstanding in its execution. It feels raw and dangerous, and Hemsworth plays the role of a bad-arse perfectly while still feeling vulnerable. He’s not invincible, he’s just really bloody good at killing people. In particular, there’s a lengthy single-take (well, not actually, but the cuts are hidden well) action sequence that had me perched on the edge of my seat. Massive, massive kudos to the camera guys who did some insane stuff to get the shots, including jumping across a building and running down a set of stairs backward. And then another moment that me giddy with geeky excitement was a shot where the camera swooped down toward a moving car, went straight into the back seat, and continued to ride with Rake and the kid. Ugh, it was so smooth!

Check out the behind-the-scenes video, or better yet, just go watch the bloody film! Also, it was cool to hear Hemsworth rocking his natural Australian accent.

I’m still in the middle of reading The Burning White by Brent Weeks. But I did get involved in an argument I had never considering before: do you read with a hard back’s dust cover on or off? Up until last week, I’d always left it on because it was part of the book, and separating the two seemed like heresy. Now, though, I’m in the camp of taking the cover off when reading. It’s so much easier! There’s no risk of catching the edge of the cover on things and ruining it, and it just feels easier to hold. What’s the verdict, peeps: cover on or off?

Before we wrap up, here’s some potentially useful game information that might help make isolation more bearable. Sega has put upTotal War: Shogun 2 completely free on Steam which is just amazing. There’s an insane amount of content there for you to play through. If that’s not enough, Sony is giving away the Nathan Drake Collection (the first three Uncharted games) and Journey for free to everyone on PS4 right now.

Finally, if you can spare some cash at the moment please considering supporting the site below. Money is very tight at the moment and every bit does honestly help loads.

Categories
App Reviews

Objective vs Subjective: Gaming Review And The Conundrum

Videogame reviews are a strange and fascinating blend of the subjective and the objective, of facts and opinions that must be crushed together into a cohesive whole that explains to the reader how the author felt about the game and why he or she arrived at their final conclusion. It is a strange and mysterious art that I’m still attempting to understand and master, and one day I hope to be truly fluent in the baffling language that is videogame reviewing.

But my less than impressive mastery of the skill does not, and will not, stop me from talking about it a little. My desire to speak of the strange relationship between the objective and the subjective in reviews has been around for a while, but attempting to articulate all my various thoughts about was a daunting prospect. Still, a piece that I just read today (at the time of writing) regarding the controversy surrounding Polygon’s review of Dragon’s Crown sparked the urge to write. While the piece was obviously dealing with the character’s odd sexualization within Dragon’s Crown, by doing so it also dealing heavily with how reviews should be handled, and explicitly about the relationship between the objective and the subjective. As I read through the piece there were points I found myself agreeing with and others that I simply did not. Yet make no mistake this is not a direct response to that piece, though I may quote some of the points made within it simply to help me formulate my own chaotic thoughts and get them down on paper. Well, on virtual paper. Alright, on a screen.

But first, what is the difference between something being objective and something being subjective? That’s simple: it;’s the difference between something that is your opinion, and something that is factually based. An opinion comes from your emotions, beliefs, morals, and much, much more.  When you are being objective about something, that means there is a factual basis for your statement, something that you can back up with known facts or observations.  Being subjective is offering up an opinion while being objective means working in cold, hard facts. Take this example: a simple box. Stating that it is a square is objective – there is no argument against the fact unless you really want to delve into the complex world of science and claim that the box isn’t really there and therefore cannot be square-shaped. What is subjective is whether or not that box is aesthetically pleasing to you or not.

There are numerous aspects of a videogame that can be judged in purely objective terms, such as the level of graphical detail, and where possible it is indeed, I feel, best to judge them from that standpoint. Other aspects of a game are subjective and therefore depend entirely upon someone’s personal taste, and as we know there’s just no accounting for someone’s taste. It is therefore intrinsically important to match up a reviewer’s personal tastes with the title they are expected to review. No reviewer who actively dislikes or even hates racing games, for example, should be put in charge of writing about the latest Forza game, because that creates an automatic bias against the game, even for the most logical person. it is, for this reason, that I avoid certain genres such as football games and JRPGs, because I simply do not enjoy them and I, therefore, would not feel happy in attempting to dissect any given game from those genres.

 

“I’m not saying you can’t offer your opinion in your reviews. What I’m saying is that it can’t influence the score in any real way, nor should it be allowed to influence the presentation of other, more objective subject matters. To do so is, quite simply, unprofessional. Present your opinions within the text of the piece, but we are not entitled to score a game based on an uninformed opinion, nor are we entitled to score a game as some sort of sociopolitical statement, or a statement of any sort for that matter.”

Let’s ignore that the author contradicts himself by stating that opinions should not influence the score, before going on to say that reviewers are not entitled to base a score on a misinformed, inferring that basing a score on an informed opinion is alright. The real question, to me, is by how much should opinions influence that rating?

 

I understand where the author is coming from, but I cannot agree with much of it. Opinions should indeed influence the final score, even if it’s for the simple reason that deciding how much an objective aspect of the game should affect and change the final score is purely based on opinion. Take, for example, Skyrim. On release, Skyrim was riddled with bugs and problems that could at times drastically affect a player’s experience with the game. There is no room for opinion in talking about the game’s bugs and glitches because their existence and effects are quantifiable facts, not open for debate. However, where opinion comes into the equation is when determining just how much those objective facts affect the overall quality of the title, and therefore the score that the author decides to apply.

Should you take a point or two off of the score for these problems? If you decide to take points away, how many should you remove? This is a subjective matter because as of the moment there is no mathematical formula dictating such things. When I reviewed the game I decided that in my opinion playing the game was so much fun, so immensely enjoyable, that it overruled any of these problems, and therefore I decided that the negative problems would not result in me removing points from the final score. Some people agreed with me, others disagreed, and that is a good thing as it promoted healthy debate. I got hate mail for my decision, and I got other bits of mail supporting my opinion. For those that didn’t read the review, I awarded it a full 10/10. I’ve only awarded that sort of score twice, with the other game being Portal 2. Do note that a 10 does not equal a perfect game, as Skyrim clearly is not.

Other problems begin to arise when components of a game mix the subjective and the objective. Take a game’s aesthetics’ for example. If a review was almost entirely subjective then someone writing about Minecraft would be forced to state the game’s graphics are simplistic and completely out of date. The argument that the game is supposed to look that way would be invalid. Would that completely objective look at the game’s visuals do them justice? No.

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Pondering how objectivity and subjectivity work within video game reviews has often made me wonder if I should just completely drop the scoring system that I use because assigning a number at the end of the review creates the false illusion of some mathematical, objective scoring system which reflects pure fact rather than opinion. Scores create often pointless arguments and have driven the Metacritic culture, which has, in turn, led to some terrible publisher and developer practices. There is no magical objective formula I use to determine a score because I don’t think one could ever exist without there being a massive list of every possible aspect of a game with a value assigned to each aspect which the reviewer then goes through, ticking the boxes of whichever aspects are within the game in question.  Instead, I have a single descriptive word assigned to each score (bad, okay, good, great, awesome) and when it comes to assigning a score I consider which of those words I would use if I had to describe the game using a single sentence to a friend: “the game was…”. As horrible as that sounds I do indeed attempt to ground my scores in at least some semblance of objectivity. Although I may be tiring of its formula at this bad I would never declare Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 to be a bad game because from a purely objective standpoint it’s very, very well made. Opinions color the review, and objectivity, I think, must ground it. I, therefore, try to use objective points to ground my score, and then I alter and adjust it based upon my own opinion, all while attempting to remain as “fair” as possible. My ultimate goal is to attempt to justify that score’s existence through articulating my own personal feelings of the game and using objective points to reinforce those arguments.

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Let us turn to Call of Duty, for example. We’ll imagine that Activision has just released Call of Duty: Ghosts, It is as well made and designed as the previous games but also does not deviate from the known formula. Therefore from an objective standpoint, I would have to score the game quite highly, because it’s well made all around with solid pacing work, etc. Where my opinion comes into play is in how old the formula that the game is using is beginning to feel, how familiar it all is and how it is no longer fresh and new. There’s no truly objective way to view each of these aspects. If I scored the game purely based on the objective points I wrote about, the game would score highly, but to me, that would not be right, because that objective score simply cannot account for everything. It is, therefore, my duty and goal to justify my arguments about the game’s aging formula and to therefore also justify the final score I gave the game.

Still, opinions within reviews must come within certain criteria to really hold any weight, and just as importantly they must make contextual sense. For example, if someone stated in a review that a beat ’em up, such as Mortal Kombat, was repetitive, then that opinion would make very little sense within the context of the genre. Beat ’em ups are by their very nature repetitive games, so criticizing such a thing would be akin to criticizing Borderlands for having a lot of guns. Opinions must be informed and well thought out to hold any relevance within a review, and it is up to each author to work and construct these frames in which they operate. Even then there ware always questions. For example, should a Call of Duty game be actively criticized for being linear? Is that a fair complaint given that it’s a deliberate choice with certain benefits? Many reviewers always voice the linearity complaint with each new iteration, but at this point, it’s clear that Call of Duty is a linear series, and until that change is it really a valid point of contention?

And what exactly is an informed opinion? I would like to address a point that the author makes (Christ, it really is starting to come off as me writing a direct reply, isn’t it?) is the thorny issue of the ‘informed opinion’. The author makes a succinct point that I heartily agree with: “No matter who told you what, opinions can be, and are often, wrong. Your misinformed opinion is NOT, and never will be, as good as an informed opinion.” But the problem for me lies in what should be classified as an informed opinion. How deep must a reviewer’s knowledge go? Should a review have a detailed knowledge of gaming history? You don’t need to know everything about film history in order to tell if a film has good writing, pacing, and characters, do you? Likewise with games. I’ve seen people argue that reviewers should have knowledge of what influenced the artistic style of a game, such as a specific artist or something of that ilk, but then you open up a door that cannot be closed. If a reviewer should be expected to understand artistic influences, then they would also need to analyze musical influences and more. What is truly an informed opinion? I’d rather have someone who can accurately and clearly talk about a game and it’s the aesthetics that someone who can tell me which artist influenced those aesthetics. It’s the end result that should matter, not the influences.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to grasp for reader and writer alike is a simple fact that saying something is bad and it being objectively bad are two very different things. You might not like Call of Duty, but there’s a difference between you simply not liking it and the game is objectively bad.  I am personally not a fan of the Halo games: the style of gameplay simply doesn’t suit me, but I certainly wouldn’t claim that it’s a bad game, because from an objective standpoint that’s simply not true, even though I could field several arguments from an objective stance why it’s current standing amongst gamers and the media is slightly exaggerated. It can often be tricky for humans to separate this concept that our dislike for something does not make it bad in an objective sense. Working this into a review is equally tricky.

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This automatically raises the question of whether or not I should review a Halo game. I pointed out earlier that reviewers should be matched up with the title they’re expected to review so that someone with a dislike of a certain genre never has to try to write about a title within that category. The dilemma comes from the fact that I am a fan of the FPS genre with good knowledge, but at the same time I’m largely indifferent to the Halo series, neither disliking it or liking it. So, should I attempt to review Halo 5? I don’t have a genuine answer, but I’d like to think that I could be objective enough to provide a fair review, a review that also simply doesn’t bow down to the Halo name like many websites and magazines seem to do. Even though the gameplay isn’t quite my thing (though I do enjoy the multiplayer side of things) I do also understand why it works and why people enjoy it. Maybe I’m wrong, though, and simply shouldn’t go near it. I’m pretty sure when Halo 5 comes around and I give a review a whirl people will let me know.

Those that argue that reviews should be much more objective, if not completely so, often cite movie reviews as an example where we tend to find a much more consistent range of scores, regardless of author. The problem with this example, when applied to game, is that movies are not interactive: they require nothing more from the viewer than a few hours of their time and concentration. Once you begin applying the element of interactivity I believe that much of the objective argument starts to crumble because each gamer can have a very different experience with the game. This effect becomes far more pronounced in large, open-world gamers where the player is free to run and frolic as they see fit. Again, Skyrim is a good example: when I played it, I encountered relatively few bugs in comparison to many others because I went about things in a different manner or simply never went near the quest or area here a particular bug awaited me because the game was so vast. When writing the review I was then faced with a quandary: do I write about glitches and problems that I had no personal experience with? Objectively I knew these problems existed because there were legions of people experiencing them, and yet because I did not experience them myself was I truly in a position to try to pass judgment on how they affected the game? The answer I arrived at was no, I could not talk about something that I had not personally encountered.

The relationship between objective and subjective is symbiotic – they must work in a beautiful tandem to create a fitting review. Let say’s for, example, I declare in a review that a game is too hard. That is, of course, a subjective opinion, and a not very helpful one at that. I don’t tell the reader very much. As such it makes far more sense for me to attempt to reinforce my opinion by presenting some objective information. Thus, “The game is made far too difficult, in my view, because the block mechanic has a small delay which can often leave you vulnerable, while hit detection is rather inconsistent.” My opinion is that the game is too difficult, but I’ve backed up that argument by presenting some factual information to help the reader understand my position. I could have simply presented the factual evidence and left out my opinion, but then would the reader have been any wiser, left to wonder if this delay and hit detection issue impacted the game significantly or slightly. Therefore I argue that objectivity and subjectivity are both vitally important in any review and that the score should also be a mixture of the two in order to properly reflect the text.

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An interesting example of when objectivity and subjectivity clash is Capcom’s reboot of their Devil May Cry franchise from this year. For the most part, critics gave it good reviews, and that’s because, I believe, from an objective standpoint the game was rather well made. The combat was slick and the technical aspects of the game were good. Where opinion came in was with the reinvention of the main character and of series lore: some reviewers influenced their final score more than others based on their opinion of this recreation. Meanwhile, fans of the franchise began to tear the game apart, with many of them declaring it a bad game, many of whom hadn’t even played it. But why? Again, if I attempt to rinse my mind and view it from an objective stance I certainly could not declare DmC to be a bad game, no matter how strongly I feel about the way the reboot was done. This is again the difference between somebody not liking something and it being objectively bad. The problem these people had was with the way the new game had been styled and the main character and lore changed around, and that affected their opinion of the rest of the game, to the point where they simply blanked out many of its merits and accused a lot of reviewers of, amusingly, being paid off or biased.

But were they wrong to let their feelings color their view of the game that much? We again arrive at the question of how much an opinion should color a reviewer’s verdict of a game. More importantly, was the strange depiction of women in Dragon’s Crown something that should have been brought up in a review? Yes, I certainly feel that there’s no reason why it should not be. But should it have influenced the final scoring? That’s a difficult question, because if you say no then that raises the even more difficult question of which opinions should influence the score and which should not. How do you decide that? Of course, if something like the depiction of women in a game bothers you enough then that obviously does color your overall experience with the game, which in turn may result in the score being altered accordingly, perhaps without the author even being aware of having done so.

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From my viewpoint, as limited as it may be, that bringing in anything such as religion, sexism, etc. into a review is always a difficult task. That’s not because they shouldn’t be brought up in certain situations, but because such topics have somehow become hidden behind red tape over the years, especially if you intend to criticize them or question them in any way. I’ve got a review coming up of Killer is Dead, and while I can’t say much about it at the moment due to an NDA, within the review I intend to talk about a portion of the game pertaining to women. Usually, I do not do this, but in this instance, I feel that it does indeed tarnish the overall quality of the game slightly. As such, I feel it must be talked about, and to refrain from doing so would be something of an injustice.

I also don’t believe that refraining from allowing your opinions to influence the final score does justice to certain games because certain games defy objective reasoning to a degree. Minecraft is the best example that I can pull from the recesses of my mind, but there are many, many other fine examples of games that manage to defy reason. If I sat down and attempted to pick Minecraft apart and objectively weight up to its strengths and weaknesses then it would come out with a pretty low score, because the standards we tend to judge games by these days are not met. Objectively the graphics are poor, regardless of whether or not it’s a deliberate aesthetic choice. The gameplay is simplistic, combat is clumsy and the minute to minute action is mundane. Minecraft is all of these things, but as the millions who play it can attest once you mesh everything together, Minecraft becomes something else entirely. There’s just a certain something that is hard to put into words, let along quantify from an objective stance, and Minecraft isn’t the only game.

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The simple fact of the matter is that I have no answer to this great question. In my view, opinions are an important and integral part of videogame reviews because they allow us to read a broader spectrum of viewpoints that dissect the game. Reviews are a beautiful mixture of the objective and the subjective, a mix that mystifies me and intrigues me. I have no answer to how much an opinion should color a score or, for that matter, many of the points I raised here because I don’t think there really is a right answer. It’s a topic wide open for debate, and I see no end to that debate any time soon.

Ultimately I believe it’s up to the reviewer to voice his opinion in an eloquent and well thought and manner while still remaining as objective as they can. It’s up to the reviewer to justify those opinions using objective means when possible, and by doing so the final score should also feel justified to those viewing it. Much like the relationship between the subjective and objective,  a review score and the text itself share a symbiotic relationship, and neither should ever be taken out of the context of the other, which is sadly something people often tend to do, glancing at the number and not the text which explains it.

And thus ends my inane rambling and guided tour through my attention deprived mind. Please do let me know how you guys feel about reviews, whether you think they should remain as objective as possible, or even entirely objective. Do you agree that opinions are integral? Should some opinions never be raised in a review? Am I just plain wrong about everything? If you answered yes to that final one then don’t worry, I’ve thought the same thing a few times and wound up wondering if this piece was good enough to publish.

Categories
Board Game Review

Firefly Adventures Brigands & Browncoats fReview – Can we maybe vote on the whole murdering people issue

I know, it has been a while since I professed my undying and eternal love for Firefly, a cult sci-fi show that didn’t even get to run for a full season before it was callously canceled by those muppets at Fox, a crime so heinous that I still have not forgiven them. The point is for a show that only ran 14-episodes it still managed to spawn a feature film, various comics, and now numerous board and card games. That’s a hell of a legacy.

So, you open up the box and you’re greeted by a variety of smaller boxes containing the various pieces needed to play the game. But here’s the clever bit; these boxes double as buildings for use in the game, scenery that helps create a better sense of immersion as well as making a line of sight much easier to judge. Even the main game box itself is a giant building that gets used in one of the missions. This is a fantastic idea, and while I’m probably wrong about this I think it might be the only game to do this. It does, however, come with a few key caveats, the first being that these little cardboard buildings are very, very easy to knock around, especially when you’re trying to pick up tokens from inside them or move the miniatures around. They also don’t always fit properly into the grid, and in one case had an off-balance floor. But these gripes aside it was pretty cool to have instant scenery for the game.

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However, you also only get a lowly four missions in the box. More is promised to be launched online for free, but it’s still a shame to pop open the lid and only have four missions to embark on, even if the replay value is reasonably strong.

Still, as the misfit crew of the Serenity, you’re going to rescue a hostage, perform a clandestine drop-off, steal some loot, and generally misbehave. Whereas Gale Force Nine’s prior Firefly: The Board Game was a sprawling beast about the big picture of pulling off jobs in space, this is all about the small scale, the things that happen when you land on a planet and have to negotiate with the local goons, hack a terminal or two and get into some brawls.

You don’t get the entire crew of the Serenity to play with, though. Cap’n Mal, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, and Jayne are all accounted for, but River, Simon, Inara, and Book are all absent without explanation. Thematically it does make sense since River, Simon, Inara, and Book were not part of the core crew who took on the various legal and illegal jobs, but I feel as though we’ll likely see these missing members of Serenity added at some point via an expansion.

Setting up the game is a case of grabbing one of them for mission booklets and then laying down the matching tiles and buildings, as well as any objective tokens and enemy starting locations. It’s a bit of a faff since the artwork depicted in the booklet doesn’t always match the actual buildings, and you have to count squares in order to line everything up correctly, but once you get the hang of it the whole setup isn’t too bad.

Intriguingly there’s no set turn order in Firefly: Adventures, rather it’s the person who is currently at the back of the Moment track that gets to go next. Allow me to explain; on your turn, you can take two actions that are listed on your player board, and each of those actions has a cost in Moments, or in other words the time it takes to do them. When you perform an action you move your little token the appropriate number of spaces along the track. Simple stuff. Then whoever is at the back of the track gets their turn, even if that happens to be you again. Enemy tokens will also get placed on this track, and will indeed always get put at the back when the goons first become alerted and will behave in the same way. There’s an intriguing layer of tactics here as it can often be advantageous for one person to take a few turns in a row, but the missions all have time limits, so you also need to keep an eye on how much time you have left.

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Every ten spaces along the track there’s a star, and the first time a player character’s token lands on or pass each star a die is rolled, then the mission booklet is consulted to see what happens.

You always start with your heroes acting Casual, meaning they’re free to amble around the map without any bad guys doing anything to them. So long as nobody draws attention to themselves by doing something daft like punching a goon in the face of blatantly trying to hack into a terminal or anything like that, you’re able to go about your business. Since missions typically have objectives where you can negotiate with the enemy in order to get information or even move them away from a location is often in your best interest to stay under the radar as long as you can.

You can, however, swap over to acting Heroic at any time you like, and it doesn’t cost an action or any Moments to do so. When you do this you replace your miniature with a green, Heroic one and then flip your player board over to its Heroic side which lists differing actions for each character. The key is that when you go into Heroic mode any enemy that can see you will immediately enter the alerted state, meaning they’ll now actively come after you with all guns blazing and a stern telling off.

That brings us to moving the bad guys around the map and their mechanics. Now, since the players control the bad guys in the sense that they move them around the game makes a note of encouraging everyone at the table to have the enemies act smartly by using cover and making sensible plays, so let’s just assume we’ll be following that guideline. Alerted bad guys will always move toward the nearest Heroic character in their line of sight, but failing that they’ll go for a stroll toward whichever Heroic hero happens to be closest to them regardless of being able to actually see them because obviously they have x-ray vision. Happily, though, goons will return to a blissfully unaware state if there are no Heroic crew left on the board, at which point they’ll make their way back to the nearest goon token and resume their steadfast guarding duties.

Speaking of which, a player can always return to acting Casual provided they meet these requirements; they aren’t wounded, thus you might need to heal up using a different action; they aren’t in the line of sight of any goods, and finally provided they use an action to spend two Moments. What this smartly means is that it’s actually possible to do something Heroic, then go back to acting Casual in the same turn if you time it right. You can also do that thing I mentioned earlier where one player takes a few turns in a row, letting then do something Heroic before diving behind a building and acting Casual again.

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Let’s get back to the goons, though. They come in two distinct flavors; the punchy thugs who like to get up close and personal with your face, and the cowboys who much prefer to riddle your backside with a selection of bullets, preferably while they stay in the cover which makes it harder to be hit. Both types come with a card that lists what they’ll do, but the basic idea is that they’ll always do two actions on their turn and will attempt to get into range for punching or shooting. The only bit of confusion is that the Cowboy is listed as trying to move into a range of six squares at which point he’ll take a shot, but it’s a bit unclear as to whether he is meant to stop as soon as he hits that range or will use his movement to get as close as possible first, which is what my group assumed as that just made more sense unless there was the cover that the Cowboy could take advantage of.

This brings us to fighting since both the players and the enemy use the same system. Provided you have the Brawl or Shoot symbol on your character or on a piece of equipment you can do a bit of fighting. For some fisticuffs, it’s simply a case of getting next to the enemy you want to smack around and then rolling the amount of dice shown. The enemy gets to roll as well, hence the fact that the dice come in two different colors, and whoever has the highest total dishes out a wound on the opponent. Simple stuff.

Shooting can be done at any range in theory, but to hit you need to able to roll a total that is equal to or higher than the distance between you and the unfortunate person, thus if your gun only lets you roll a single die the maximum distance you could shoot is six squares. Or at least, it would be, but to brawls and to shooting you also get to add any of the matching skill icons on your character card and equipment you’re using.

There’s a small twist, too. If you roll the Serenity ship, which counts as a six, then you immediately get to add another dice to your roll, and this applies to rolls for challenges as well. However, for every symbol that pops up a Serenity roll is negated, and if there are more of these symbols than there are ships you automatically fail.

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I love this Casual vs Heroic system that underpins as it can create a lot of fun moments in the game where one player suddenly pulls out a gun and starts drawing the attention of the bad guys so someone else can saunter up to the objective unhindered. You can go in all guns blazing or focus on sweet-talking your way through the whole mission, or a bit of both. It’s also really satisfying when things get screwed up, so you fight a few goons, duck around a building, and go back to acting casual like nothing ever happened, sauntering down the street while whistling a jaunty tune. Sure, it’s a bit daft to think that the enemies suddenly don’t recognize you despite the fact that you just punched one of them in the face, but from a gameplay standpoint it’s a lot of fun to pull off.

I also like how the system encourages forward planning. At the start of the mission you’re given a chunk of cash that’s either based on the previous mission’s earnings or just a set amount of $3000 to play with, and you can use this to purchase gear from a selection of five cards, with cards being replaced as they’re bought What gear should you take in? Should you spend big on guns, or maybe go for things that help negotiate? And which characters should get which piece of equipment? Some characters, like Kaylee, for example, can’t initiate a brawl without a weapon that lists the brawl action, so is it worth giving her a knife or just trying to ensure she keeps out of the way of fights entirely?

Dead bodies play a part, too, because every time you beat up a goon or shoot one in the face you leave a corpse, and if an enemy can see that corpse they’ll be alerted. See? And you thought your mum was just being annoying when she was always nagging you to tidy up after yourself. It’s okay, though, because you can lug these bodies around and hide them behind corners or in buildings.

Along the way, you’ll need to perform a variety of skill checks. Both negotiations and tech challenges mean drawing a card from the appropriate deck and then taking one of the two options listed there. Once you’ve decided you just need to roll and then add any matching skill icons you’ve got to the total. Succeeded and the card will give you a reward, fail and it’ll hit you with a penalty, perhaps forcing you to act Heroic or lose a piece of gear.

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Each of the four jobs all boasts their own special rules and events surrounding these challenges and other things, too, bringing some nice variety to the escapades. For example, in one game you can perform negotiation challenges on goons to get them to move away from their positions at the door, letting you hopefully break-in. In another mission negotiations and hacking terminals slowly narrows down the location of a hostage, or you could just barge through the various buildings until you find the person in question.

As a bonus, the rulebook does include a variation where one person gets to take on the role of the enemy goons. It’s a pretty nice diversion but it also removes the Casual/Heroic mechanic and thereby removes what makes the game stand out in my mind.

By far the game’s biggest potential weakness is the reliance on luck that stems from the dice rolls and the cards. Sometimes no matter how carefully you position your crew or what gear you take into the game it just doesn’t go your way due to bad rolls or awful draws.  Luck isn’t an inherently good or bad thing in board games and when used correctly a hefty dollop of chance can help spice things up, but I’d be lying if I and my friends didn’t sometimes get frustrated by how often our plans were decimated because Lady Luck is as fickle and cold as the person behind the Subway’s counter who won’t give you a little more mayo. God damn you.

The other issue is that the rulebook really isn’t great. In fact, the online FAQ is a must-read since some rules need clarification. The lack of an index is also a baffling oversight. Yes, the rulebook isn’t huge or anything, but having to flip through it to find something specific

So, if you happen to be a fan of Firefly then this an easy sale, though I would say that compared to Firefly: The Board Game this doesn’t capture the feel of the show as much. But if you aren’t a Firefly fan then it’s a slightly tougher sell. This is a light skirmish game with plenty of emphasis on luck over the skill that can create some really fun moments. It’s not a must-have game that you absolutely must rush out and buy, but if you need a light skirmish game to fill a gap in your library then this is a nice choice with a couple of great ideas layered atop some bog-standard combat.

Categories
Review

Chimera Squad Review – XCOM 3 Testing Ground

Announced mere weeks ago and launching with a hefty 50% discount, XCOM: Chimera Squad came out of nowhere. It’s a spin-off of the main franchise, one that quite probably acts as a testing ground for Firaxis as they craft the eagerly awaited XCOM 3. The brilliant turn-based tension of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is still at the core of Chimera Squad, but there are some brave new ideas thrown into the mix as well. So, with loads of turn-based tactical games suddenly appearing, does XCOM: Chimera Squad do enough to warrant a purchase?

Befitting the minimal price-tag (£16.99) the scale of XCOM: Chimera Squad has been pared back – you aren’t defending the entire planet against an alien invasion, instead you’re helping police a single city. Carrying on from the events of XCOM 2 and The Chosen War, aliens and humans are now trying to co-exist peacefully. Naturally, there are still dissidents who haven’t taken kindly to the new order of things, but for the most part, peace seems possible. The titular Chimera Squad itself is a mixture of aliens and humans who are called in after the mayor is assassinated. They need to find out who is behind the attack, and to do that they need to investigate three factions within the city, each having their own motivations and intriguing enemy types to shoot in the face.

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Gone are the generic soldiers you would recruit, name, customize, and become almost worryingly attached too. In their place, there’s now a roster of 11 agents who have predefined names and personalities. You can swap the color of their armor and outfit with them gear modifications but that’s it. The constant dread of losing long-serving and skilled soldiers is also gone because XCOM: Chimera Squad has tossed perma-death out of the window, perhaps losing one of the franchise’s most well-known elements. Your team members can’t die, they can only be downed and then replaced by a generic android for the rest of the mission. If a member of the team goes down and there’s not reinforcement to replace him or her with, the mission is over. If you chose hardcore, then the entire campaign is over.

The levels themselves are smaller, too, with a mission typically lasting somewhere around 10-15 minutes. I love XCOM 2, but sometimes the fights could drag on, and the faster pace of Chimera Squad is nice. Even the enemies go down a bit quicker, usually taking one, two, or maybe three shots to collapse. With the smaller encounters, it feels like you can afford to be more aggressive. Sure, Overwatch is still very useful at times, but you can often get more done by pushing forward or finding good ways to use special abilities.

Speaking of special abilities, your diverse cast of minions gets an equally diverse bunch of skills to use. Firaxis has done a good job of making each character feel unique and useful, except possibly for Cherub who I left out of the squad every single time. Snake-lady Torque is a good example as she can use her horrifyingly long tong to snag an enemy and drag it across the map, useful for opening up a target. Or she can take a dangerous target out of the fight by wrapping herself around her victim and squeezing hard, dishing out damage every turn. But more creatively you could also use Torque’s tongue to snatch a squad-mate out of danger. Meanwhile, someone like Zephyr is a purely melee-focused character who can run in, kick the enemy in the teeth, and then dive for cover.

You’ll quickly find favorites among the 11 available characters to pick from. Learning how best to combine abilities is satisfying work, and even a dozen hours into the game I was still finding little combos and nuances I hadn’t noticed before. And I particularly liked how knowing when and where to use abilities can turn the tide of a whole fight. Well-judged cooldown timers stop you from simply abusing abilities, but if you get it right you can occasionally push through a whole encounter without ever firing a shot. As rewarding as building your own roster of goons in XCOM 2 could be, the 11 pre-defined characters Firaxis came up with feel much more distinct on the battlefield.

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Sadly, as interesting, varied, and fun as they are in terms of abilities and their role in a fight, their personalities are a lot less enjoyable. Partly that’s because the story – told through static cartoon-style images that resemble a Saturday morning cartoon – isn’t very engaging, but mostly it’s because the aliens all talk like they’ve lived on Earth their entire lives and just graduated from college. Occasionally there’s a throwaway line designed to remind you that these are beings from another planet, but it’s hard not to think something horribly wrong when a giant snake sounds like an angsty teen.

The frustrating thing is that the premise of XCOM: Chimera Squad has so much potential for exciting squad dynamics. There’s the clashing of alien and human cultures to work with and the looming fact that several alien members of the squad actively fought in the invasion of Earth. That’s grounds for some real tension, but the writers never use it. This could have been a compelling, interesting group of characters with loads of room for cool story arcs. Maybe I’m just expecting too much from a budget game.

As soon as you head out to tackle a mission one of the game’s big new features comes to the fore: breaching. Each mission is usually made up of 1-3 encounters, and at the beginning of each encounter, you get to use the breaching mode. Here, one or more entrances will be presented to you, some requiring gear like breaching charges or a security keycard to access. Each entrance will tell you how much damage you might expect to take, and what bonuses or penalties will be applied, like the last person through getting a bonus action point. Then it’s up to you which entrances you’ll use and what order your soldiers will smash through the door, leap through the window or rappel from the rooftops, all while using any special breaching abilities they might have. Once you’re in you get a chance to take a free shot with each squad member, potentially killing several enemies in the process. But who to aim for? Maybe the Purifier since he wields a flamethrower that can burn multiple characters at the same time? Or perhaps the Necromancer is a better choice thanks to his pesky ability to raise the dead. It’s fun stuff, and to my surprise, I never got bored of smashing through a wall and deciding which enemies had to die first.

Once you’ve blown up someone’s wall or come tumbling in through their windows like the world’s worst window cleaners being chased by a wasp the action shifts to the familiar XCOM formula. Each member of your squad has two action points to spend on moving, shooting, and using abilities. But remember, shooting almost always ends your turn. The maps may be smaller but there are still opportunities to flank the enemy, and the quicker pace of the fights stops missions from becoming dull. It also means that you have to be extra careful in how you position your troops.

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Normally in an XCOM game, you and the A.I. take turns, and on a turn, you can use your entire squad before handing off to the enemy. Chimera Squad has done things differently, using a new timeline system. Now, individual units will have a turn. Sometimes that might even mean three or four enemies going one after the other, or it could just mean a single foe doing their thing before you get to jump in with a couple of units in a row. This new system is fantastic, forcing you to really take a look at the timeline before deciding how best to spend an agent’s actions. And the game gives you numerous ways to play with the timeline, too. Of course, just killing the next enemy on the timeline works, but you also get an ability that can be used once per mission which moves any of your soldiers into the next slot on the timeline. Various other skills and items let you tweak the order to your advantage.

The only thing that’s missing is the familiar sense of XCOM dread that would sink in when an enemy’s turn came and you have to sit and watch as every enemy unit proceeded to decimate your woefully positioned squad. In fact, on the whole XCOM: Chimera Squad isn’t quite as soul-destroying as XCOM 2 could be.

All in all, I really enjoyed the combat style of XCOM: Chimera Squad. While it isn’t as aggressive as something like Gears Tactics, it’s certainly more aggressive and faster than the prior XCOM games from Firaxis. There’s a healthy dose of unique abilities, and finding out what squad members work the best together is great fun. There are still some annoyances in how XCOM calculates your odds of hitting something, but that’s par for the course with the series by this point. If failing a shot with a 95% chance of succeeding has made you abandon XCOM in the past then Chimera Squad isn’t going to make things better now. But those thrilling, tense firefights that come down to a roll of the dice are still captivating if you can handle mind-melting frustration of someone with a shotgun failing to hit a target 2-FUCKING FEET AWAY! GOD DAMN!

While you might not be having to deal with government funding and running a worldwide operation to fend off alien invaders any more, there’s still so admin to do. The core of this is the city itself which is split into nine districts. Ignore a mission in a district and its unrest goes up. If unrest hits level five then the city’s Anarchy meter rises, making the game tougher and pushing you a step toward a total game over scenario. Thus the whole thing is a juggling act as you choose which missions to tackle and which to ignore

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On a given playthrough you can get a total of eight of the eleven agents, but only four can be taken on a mission, leaving you with a few idle hands around the base. They aren’t useless though since they can be assigned to do a few things. Assembly projects, for example, are where you research new tech that will unlock more gear for you to buy like better armor or grenades that hoist enemies into the air. Spec Ops acts as a way of gathering extra resources. Finally, training lets you heal scars which agents might have picked up, as well as improve core stats and unlock powerful abilities.

It might not be quite as deep as XCOM 2 and your decisions don’t have the same long-term sense of impact, but there’s a pleasing level of management on offer in Chimera Squad. Picking what to research next, which mission to hit, what gear to buy, who to train, and so on acts as a nice break from the combat. It does lack the visual flair of XCOM 2’s base though. Your little home-away-from-home is a static, unchanging place, and even sticking shiny new armor on your squad doesn’t change their appearance. Without the visual aids managing your squad and the city does feel more like number crunching at times.

Sadly the budget pricing of XCOM: Chimera Squad seems to have resulted in a janky game. The animations are a prime example – they’re clumsy and awkward, and there are no smooth transitions. Watching a character move to a point is almost physically painful, especially if they have to turn at any point. But you also have to suffer a lot of visual bugs, including people walking through closed doors, torsos rotating wildly, enemies literally walking out of a level through a wall and then back in so that they appear on the objective and heaps more. One of those most annoying involved half of a building’s roof losing its transparency, making seeing bloody hard.

For such a meager price XCOM: Chimera Squad packs somewhere in the realm of 20-hours of content into its slim frame. It almost feels unfair to compare it so frequently to XCOM 2 since it’s a small-scale spin-off. But Chimera Squad manages to find its own identity while still retaining the general feel of XCOM, even if the pre-defined characters and lack of perma-death might put veterans of the franchise off entirely. And that’s fair because making up your own squad and forming tales of their heroics and their demises have been core to XCOM since it returned from the dead in 2013. But if you can look past that there’s a lot to like in XCOM: Chimera Squad, and if you’re a lover of turn-based tactics games then this is well worth playing, though it has some incredibly tough competition in Gears Tactics at the moment.

Categories
Tech Review

Razer Wolverine Tournament Edition Controller Review – Not Starring Hugh Jackman

Regardless of whether you’re the type of person who is loyal to Microsoft or Sony, it’s pretty damn hard to deny that the first time you held an Xbox 360 controller it was a damn revelation. It sat in the hands like it was molded for your individual needs. The Xbox One controller is just as good if not better. So how do you improve on it? Well, according to Razer you give it more buttons, some RGB LED lighting, swap out the d-pad and then slap a big price tag on it. Enter the Wolverine Tournament Edition.

The connection is wired using a braided micro-USB cable that stretches out to ten feet, although frustratingly the connection area on the controller has two small plastic shelves on either side that mean you can’t just use any old  Micro USB cable, you must use the one Razer provides in the box. What if that cable breaks, or if you want a shorter or longer cable? Tough luck. It’s a design choice I simply can’t wrap my head around. There is no possible reason I can conjure up to justify it.

It’s also a tad surprising that you can’t unplug it and go wireless. Now, certainly a wired connection provides the best possible signal transference from the controller to the console or PC and you don’t have to worry about running out of battery power at the worst possible minute, but in 2017 there’s no denying that a lot of people also like the freedom that wireless can provide, so it’s a shame that you can’t unplug the cable and run the Wolverine off of batteries. Even the Wolverine Ultimate doesn’t have wireless capabilities, while the Wolverine’s closest competitor, Microsoft’s own Xbox One Elite Controller, can be used wirelessly or wired.

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The ergonomics are superb, albeit not quite matching the comfort levels of the standard Xbox One controller whose luscious curves still get me a little excited. Ahem. Some lightly textured rubber on the back of the hand grips help keep your delicate little fingers in place during those tenser multiplayer matches, and your index fingers naturally rest on the two extra paddles that the Wolverine has squirreled away on its rear. More on these extra buttons and paddles soon.

Its heavier than the standard Xbox One controllers, but actually slightly lighter than Microsofts own Elite controller. It’s a good weight, feeling nice and chunky in the hands without being absurdly hefty. In other words, it feels like a good weapon to throw at a friend whenever you lose in a split-screen game.

Since this is 2017 there’s even a strip of Razer’s Chroma RGB LED lighting running just below the Xbox home button that you can customise using the Razer Synapse software. You can, of course, opt to have a single static color, or you can have it flash in reaction to button presses or force feedback rumble.

The serviceable, but ultimately not very good for fighting games, D-pad of the original controller has been swapped out for Razers own design, so to put it through its paces I slapped on Injustice 2, which I hadn’t played for a while, and got promptly demolished. But that was my rustiness and not the controller which performed admirably. Razer’s D-pad is a step-up from the standard one, letting me be much more precise with my inputs. My only complaint here is that the right directional button felt a little less clicky and tactile than the other three. This could just be a small production issue in my test unit, though.

The four face buttons have been changed, too, with Razer changing them over to something springy that feels more akin to a mouse click. They took some getting used to, mostly because they require more force than standard controller buttons to activate. It slowed me down at first because I found myself in the middle of a hectic firefight, thinking I’d hit a button and thus dying. It’s something you get used to quite quickly, though, adjusting your playstyle until before long you’re hammering away like an angry baboon just like before.

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The two thumbsticks have probably gotten the least change as they felt almost identical to the typical Xbox One controller to me, which is actually a shame for me as I’d like just a touch more tension.

As for your triggers and should buttons they’ve mostly been left alone in terms of their basic design. Personally, I’d like a touch more tension in the triggers for racing games, but they feel close to the standard Xbox One controller, except perhaps just a touch smoother. However, where Razer have changed things is in the inclusion of two switches, one for each trigger, that drastically shorten the travel distance on the triggers as well as changing the activation point. Immediately this became something I loved for shooters, although I do have to confess that using them in multiplayer almost felt like cheating as their much shorter travel distance does give you an objective edge over people using standard controllers. With that said, even in the hands of a superb player the milliseconds that the shorter trigger activation will save won’t make a huge difference.

On top of that, we’ve got two extra buttons that have been placed on the top of the controller, just in from the triggers and bumpers. These new buttons are relatively tall so I found it surprisingly easy to access them. Plus Razer have added a very small, flat area between the triggers and bumpers to help aid you in reaching the new buttons without accidentally pressing anything else.

And if you feel like you may need a few more buttons then Razer have you covered with two paddle-esque buttons on the rear of the controller that sit exactly where your index fingers reside. Given their location Razer smartly opted for them to require a bit of pressure to activate, although there were a couple of occasions when I clicked them accidentally.

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These extra buttons and the RGB LED strip can be controlled through the Razer Synapse software which is also available as an app for your Xbox One. On PC every single button can be remapped, but on Microsoft’s console only the four extra ones can be altered. However, you are free to remap these buttons to any of the existing controls, including thumbstick movements. For example in the recent Call of Duty: WWII you could set one of the extra buttons to activate a Killstreak reward so that you don’t have to take your thumb off the stick. The software itself is easy to use if somewhat visually unexciting. While you can record macros on the PC that feature is missing on the Xbox One.

Where Razer have tripped over themselves is pricing: at around £110-120 this is not a cheap choice for anyone. Microsoft’s own Elite Controller comes in at the same price but also includes a carry case, batteries for wireless mode, six thumbsticks that can be swapped out and two D-pads to choose from. Now, to be fair I’ve not personally gotten hands-on time with Microsoft’s pricey controller so I can’t tell you if its better, but purely on paper the extra stuff you get will sway many people. Razer do have an Ultimate version of their Wolverine that comes packaged with swappable thumbsticks, two more buttons to use and other goodies including carry case, but that adds about another £30-40. Ouch.

Razer have always priced their products high, but I feel considering how good the regular Xbox controller it’s pretty hard to justify splashing so much cash on a new one for the vast majority of people. That makes it tricky to put a recommendation sticker on because the simple fact is that I wouldn’t recommend it to most folk.

But if you toss aside the cost then the Wolverine is pretty damn good. It feels responsive, fits nicely in the hand, the extra buttons are handy and the ability to reduce trigger travel is great for shooters. The software on the Xbox One is a breeze to use, too, and while the lighting strip may be utterly pointless the truth is I actually kind of like having my gear lit up like a Christmas tree.