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13th December 2017
Blending A Comic Book Look With Tactical Gameplay

Blending A Comic Book Look With Tactical Gameplay

We've seen a resurgence of isometric RPGs in the last few years, such as Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity and Larian Studios' Divinity: Original Sin series. Sword Legacy: Omen is the newest to join this trend, which blends a unique art style with tactical, turn-based gameplay. 

Sword Legacy: Omen is an RPG set in Broken Britannia, a realm that the developers describe as "candlepunk," where futuristic technology and medieval aesthetics meet. In the story, this is mostly represented through how alchemy and science are used to make technologically advanced machinery. The plot is also a reimagining of the King Arthur mythos, where a group of misfits embark on a journey to find the long lost sword Excalibur. You play as Uther, the leader of your party, who is accompanied by seven companions. However, you can only bring four at at a time with you. 

Gameplay feels similar to the likes of XCOM and The Banner Saga, where you only have so many moves. Strategy is entwined with how you plan out these maneuvers. When it's your turn, the ground lights up into squares, showing you possible paths for different characters. Certain moves can benefit the whole party, such as the protagonist's melee attack giving all allies a willpower point, which can be used to gain more AP. Other moves, such as moving too quickly toward foes instead of letting them come to you, can put you in harm's way.

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Members of your party have mostly archetypal skills, such as a thief being able to pick locks so you can loot treasure and a mage with basic magical powers. The mage, named Merlin, can shoot fireballs toward barrels which creates explosions that hurt everyone in proximity. This is just one example of how you can use the environment to your advantage, adding a layer of fun. Your party members have over 70 skills to unlock, which includes powers like creating a decoy or teleporting.

In Sword Legacy: Omen, your party members don't respawn after battle. If they collapse, they only return once you've completed the map, which can make for challenging encounters. This proved difficult when I had a downed party member during a tough fight. Much of Sword Legacy: Omen's gameplay doesn't feel that distinct or different, instead feeling similar to most other isometric RPGs I've played. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but hopefully its story and world can help it stand out.

During the demo I played, it was difficult to get a good sense of the story, since it included some placeholder dialogue and voice acting. Some of these were still written or voiced in Portuguese, since the development team is from Brazil. With isometric RPGs in particular, I've always enjoyed seeing how my choices play out or how deep mechanics can go when it comes to managing your party's skillsets. This felt like a missing component in Sword Legacy: Omen, where I didn't find story and gameplay affected one another in a compelling way.

Probably the most unique quality of Sword Legacy: Omen is its art style, which blends vibrant, colorful environments with a cartoonish aesthetic. Characters have a glossy, painted look to them, as if they came out of a graphic novel. When they speak, dialogue appears in comic book speech bubbles. These visuals really drew me in, making the world seem enticing and fun to explore. Originally, the game had a more Disney-like aesthetic, but the team opted for a darker and more gothic tone as development went on. 

Sword Legacy: Omen has some interesting themes, but as it stands, the gameplay lacks innovation and with placeholder dialogue here and there, it's hard to tell how strong a story it tells. With its candlepunk world and an original take on the classic King Arthur mythos, there's still promise that Sword Legacy: Omen can impress as the team continues to tinker. We'll see when it releases in early 2018 for PC.

12th December 2017
Miserable Stealth Action

Miserable Stealth Action

Hello Neighbor makes a strong first impression. With its Dr. Seuss-like artistic vision of an idyllic neighborhood hiding a terrible secret, the opening cinematic, featuring our curious protagonist spying on his neighbor, drew me in immediately. Too bad the illusion came crashing down shortly after that.

The game casts you as a child sneaking into his neighbor’s house to find out what kicking, screaming secret this man is hiding in his basement. An experiment gone wrong? A prisoner? Murder victims? My mind constantly poked at all the possibilities during the opening hour, but my interest was quickly murdered by dull and broken sneaking mechanics. Hello Neighbor’s campaign is composed of three acts, with the neighbor’s house serving as a series of puzzles you have to overcome to complete whatever your objective is. These puzzles err on the side of loony, recalling the days of point and click adventures, with gears and levers you often have to find and click to activate some other part of the house so that you can delve deeper. This is fine enough on paper, but the layout of the house means you’ll be constantly backtracking and searching for clues, opening drawers and looking beneath beds for that one key or object you need to get to the next segment. Those annoyances become a fatal flaw once the titular neighbor gets involved.

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The Neighbor functions like monsters in Amnesia or the Alien in Alien Isolation. He’s constantly patrolling the grounds of his estate and will hunt you down the moment he hears or sees you. You can slow him down by hurling objects at him, but he’s unkillable and unpredictable. And I don’t mean unpredictable in the sense that he’s a compelling foe, setting up traps in places you often visit (which he does), but instead because he’s brokenly powerful. The neighbor is capable of clipping through walls, seeing you, and often grabbing you when there’s a surface between you. To Hello Neighbor’s credit, your progress through the level doesn’t reset when you’re caught, and you get to keep whatever items you have on you, but the amount of times I felt like the game had cheated in catching me washed away the appreciation I had for that choice.

Hello Neighbor is annoying and flat-out broken in other areas too. The control scheme is particularly bad, requiring you to hold down a shoulder button for a second to pick up an object, and then having two other buttons for throwing and “using,” instead of just combining them, making everything more complicated and sluggish than it needs to be. Though the house the neighbor builds across every act is impressively zany, the inside of the house often feel like dull test chambers, with a lot of blank wall space and uninspired decoration. A number of puzzles often require you to use objects, like cardboard boxes, to reach other places. This means stacking them or hurling them through windows. Unfortunately, the physics for these objects are wonky at best. I often spent double-digit attempts trying to get boxes in the right formation so I could use them to make a jump, which became a long, drawn-out affair since the neighbor kept catching me anytime I screwed up, forcing me back to another part of the map.

Hello Neighbor is unpolished to the point that it feels unfinished. The overpowered enemy A.I. makes the gameplay miserable; models and animations are stiff, and physics critical to completing puzzles are so woefully uncalibrated that much of the game feels like you’re stacking boxes and hoping for the best. The game falls so short of its genre companions that it’s hard to recommend it to anyone, in spite of its beautiful aesthetic. Hello Neighbor simply isn’t fun or compelling even when it’s working.

12th December 2017
At Least It’s Short

At Least It’s Short

I appreciate short games built to execute specific, modest concepts. The world of indie games is filled with these kinds of focused experiences, and Gorogoa can certainly be described in this way. However, I simply did not connect with its vision; the narrative is too ambiguous to be engaging, and the simple puzzle mechanics stirred up no emotional response within me.

Gorogoa’s puzzles are based on a series of hand-drawn images placed on a four-by-four grid. In these images, you see a young boy as he rounds up a collection of different colored fruits in a bowl. You can take the pictures apart, rearrange them, and even connect them to make larger images. You can connect two alike pictures to make the boy travel between them, for example, or place an image of a train track above another picture to make it act as a ladder.

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These hand-drawn images from artist Jason Roberts are beautiful, and stand out as the highlight. They remind me of my favorite children’s books, and do so without singling out a specific style or artist. Unfortunately, moving the images around never amounts to a satisfying puzzle solution. All of my careful puzzle arranging rarely led to eureka moments. Instead, when I got stuck, I would just zoom in and out of an image until I found an interactive element of the picture I had simply missed before. It made it feel like I was just clicking and rearranging things until the next cutscene occurred, instead of solving legitimate puzzles.

Part of why the puzzles are so unsatisfying is because the narrative is too ambiguous. I enjoy a story that lets me arrive at my own conclusions, but from Gorogoa’s beginning to end, I never quite understood what the boy was doing, who the other characters were, why it seemed to be moving through time, and how it was all connected. I was just moving images around until things stopped happening, and then I was suddenly watching the credits.

Gorogoa’s artist and designer, Jason Roberts, clearly had a vision with this game and I applaud him and everyone else at developer Buried Signal for making it a reality. But I struggle to recommend this experience, because whatever emotions Gorogoa was hoping to convey, I simply did not feel them.

12th December 2017
Unpolished Platforming Bliss

Unpolished Platforming Bliss

A Hat in Time represents the best kind of Kickstarter project. Developer Gears for Breakfast doesn’t have any notable celebrity developers on its team and was instead able to reach its monetary goals based purely on the potential of the game and its appreciation for the genre it was trying to emulate. The result is a game that lacks polish, but A Hat in Time is full of surprises, and, more importantly, is a blast to play.

A Hat in Time begins with a mysterious girl in a tall hat flying through space in a ship fueled by magical hourglasses. She is sidetracked, however, when a bad guy from Mafia Town (a planet inhabited exclusively by Mafioso) invades her ship and her hourglasses are flung into space, making their way to the neighboring planets. What follows is a bizarre platforming adventure through a number of distinct worlds with an assortment of fun abilities.

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Arguably Hat in Time’s best and most notable element is its platforming gameplay. Moving the unnamed girl through the world is fast and accurate. I rarely, if ever, missed a jump I wasn’t aiming for, and moved at a pace that would impress even Mario. Navigating the environments is simply fun, and when you get into the rhythm of sprinting, double-jumping, lunging, and jumping again, you end up with a fantastic sense of control over your movement that makes even the smallest platform easily accessible.

Platforming is far from your only activity, however. While plenty of jumping challenges are available, A Hat in time does a good job of mixing things up with levels and sequences that defy your initial expectations. One level on a train that plays out like a stealth game (complete with overt Metal Gear Solid references) requires you to solve a murder mystery and dodge vision cones, and it ended up being one of my favorite sections of the game. Another level takes place on a scary planet full of dark woods, requiring you to sign multiple contracts with a pushy demon in order to take on side-quests. These kinds of unexpected moments happen throughout the game, making each new location worth seeking out.

Your character is also able to unlock a collection of abilities tied to different hats, like one that turns her into an ice statue to slam down on springy platforms and launch across levels. These upgrades are all useful, and can be accentuated by a series of unlockable patches that improve them. Switching between abilities is instantaneous, which adds to the impressive platforming flow when you have to use multiple abilities in quick succession.

A Hat in Time has a lot of character in all facets of its art design, but there is no escaping that the visuals are dated. The game looks like an HD remaster of an early 2000s platformer. While your character’s movements and actions look great, many of the other characters move with stilted animation, and their models clip into themselves in awkward ways. The result is a game that feels a little sloppy. It’s far from broken, but I did run into the occasional distracting bug, like when my character’s hood was offset about halfway up her face during the final cutscene.

A Hat in Time lacks polish, but it makes up for its shortcomings with excellent platforming and a universe I was happy to be part of. The whole experience is adorable, and in many ways it improves on the very platformers it uses as inspiration.

11th December 2017
A New Character Appears

A New Character Appears

Overkill, the team behind the cooperative heist shoot 'em up Payday, announced back in 2014 that it would be working on a Walking Dead game. We haven't heard much about it since then, but today we got a first glimpse at one of the characters we'll be playing as in this four player co-op shooter courtesy of a new trailer. 

The trailer focuses on Aidan, a man living in Washington D.C. and dealing with his daily responsibilities about as well as most of do. The trailer then cuts to Aidan walking around a post-apocalyptic D.C. strewn with "dead" bodies and taking on a group of zombies with a club. He seems to enjoys this a lot more than his life before the zombie apocalypse.

Overkill's The Walking Dead will feature a mix of first person shooter and survival gameplay, as players work together to fight zombies and humans. The trailer confirms the game's D.C. setting and a fall 2018 release date.

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For more on Overkill's The Walking Dead, check out our previous coverage.

11th December 2017
New Trailer Reveals Release Date

New Trailer Reveals Release Date

Conan Exiles has been available for early access on Xbox One and PC for awhile now, but the title finally has a full release date.

Conan the Barbarian and the open world survival game he’s in will fully release May 8 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The game has fared well in early access so far, having released new content throughout the year.

The release date was accompanied by a new trailer for the game.

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For more on Conan Exiles, check out our previous coverage here.

10th December 2017
Exploring An Ancient Culture's Mythology

Exploring An Ancient Culture’s Mythology

Video games can be powerful in many ways, and some developers have taken to building virtual worlds that do more than just entertain. Some, like Assassin's Creed: Origins' upcoming Discovery Mode, educate us about Ancient Egypt without the threat of enemies. Others, like the platformer Never Alone, hope to preserve the culture of the Alaskan Iñupiaq people by thematically reflecting their mythology and history.

Mulaka, from developer Lienzo, has a similar goal. Based off the indigenous culture of the Tarahumara tribe, Mulaka is an action adventure game that has players exploring the stunning sights of Northwestern Mexico. You play as a shaman, who is on a dangerous journey, attempting to stop powerful gods from the destroying the world. You can shape shift into several animals, including bears and birds, all while defeating massive enemies.

You can view the most recent trailer that was shown off at this year's PSX by watching the video below.

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The team at Lienzo researched the tribe meticulously, and worked with both anthropologists and members of a Tarahumara community, to make sure their representation is accurate. The game delves into not just the history of the tribe, but also its mythology and folklore.

Mulaka releases for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC later this year.

9th December 2017
Fantasy Flight Interactive Brings The Card Game To PC

Fantasy Flight Interactive Brings The Card Game To PC

Fantasy Flight Interactive, which launched as a way to help Fantasy Flight Games create digital versions of their various card games, announced today its bringing its Lord of the Rings Living Card Game to PC.

The Card Game, published by Asmodee Digital, will focus on the multiplayer aspect of the card game, but will also feature a single-player component, comprising of three single-player campaigns where players guide one of three heroes to fight Sauron's forces. You can watch a teaser for the game below.

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You can also check out the first screen of the game in action. It looks very similar to Hearthstone.

8th December 2017
DontNod Talks Morality, Inspiration, And More

DontNod Talks Morality, Inspiration, And More

The wait for Vampyr may have been pushed into next year, but it’s allowed Dontnod to ensure they capitalize on their past experiences and explore a new kind of video game vampire.

Originally planned for release in October of 2017, Dontnod delayed their newest project into spring of 2018 to ensure the game could be polished and made into the best experience possible. And for good reason: In addition to being a new I.P., Vampyr represents a realization of their experience gained from both the Life is Strange series and Remember Me.

“In a way, we can consider that Vampyr is the child of Dontnod's first two projects: We return to a game mechanic based on fighting and confrontation, as in Remember Me, and at the same time we return to the mechanics of the choices and consequences freely left to the players, as in Life is Strange,” says game director Philippe Moreau. 

Following the acclaim Life is Strange received for its narrative, the team has strived to offer an equally engaging tale through their new title. To this end, they settled on an exploration of vampirism and the moral ambiguity surrounding its lore.

“Vampires, in videogames, are most often depicted as enemies. Maybe because they are vicious and deceitful creatures, and it can be hard to play a vampire as the ‘hero,’” says narrative director Stéphane Beauverger. “That was one of the main reasons why we wanted to explore that classic monster: to make the players understand that Jonathan may be the main protagonist of Vampyr, but he is far from being a hero in the usual meaning of the word.”

Playing as the Victorian-era doctor-turned-vampire Jonathan Reid, players encounter a variety of characters throughout the world with their own motivations and goals. As a vampire turned against his will and trying to hold onto his humanity, Jonathan must choose carefully who he feeds on, when, or at all, leaving the player to decide who will or won’t become a target. While choosing not to feed allows Jonathan to keep his cover and abide by his moral code, feeding allows him to utilize his vampiric powers more effectively in combat. Though there isn’t a set morality system in place, choices do carry consequences and aim to make the player think on their decision process.

“Vampyr tends to incite the player to think about his own choices and own morality,” Beauverger says. “Why spare this character but kill this one? Is it because he was not nice to you? Is it because you don’t like his attitude? Does someone who does not share your point of view deserve to die? Just who is the monster, then?”

The game carries heavy inspiration from films and literature related to these topics and themes, ranging from the iconic style of F.W. Mornau’s Nosferatu to the introspective look at the creatures through Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. At the same time, dark and abstract takes on London helped the game’s artists shape the world and its characters.

“I have always loved the haunting figures in some of Phil Hale’s paintings,” says art director Grégory Szucs. “Sculpted, chiseled and bleakly lit with a cold, stroby light. Even the framing can be suffocating at times.”

While the choice to put off the game’s release was a difficult one, the team believes it was the right call and that Vampyr will live up to expectations as a result.

“After the critical acclaim of Life is Strange, there are a lot of expectations,” Moreau says. “People are waiting for us to deliver some very strong storylines, because it’s in Dontnod’s DNA. So, of course this a big challenge for us, but people believe in us and we are confident.”

Players can make their way through the grey and twisted world of Vampyr when it hits PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC next year. For more on the game, check out the latest trailer from this year's E3.