As Vane opens, a powerful storm rips apart a mysterious landscape, and you control a child clutching something to their chest. As the storm breaks the ground below your feet, you sprint to safety and the dark, synthwave soundtrack kicks in, accompanying your journey to a building in the distance. When you arrive at the door, a mysterious cloaked creature wearing a plague mask blocks your path, pushes you to the ground, and you are lifted into the air by the storm you were trying to outrun. Everything fades to black. Vane establishes intrigue early and asks many compelling questions during these moments, but it is not equipped to answer them. Frustrating moments pepper the experience, but a few high points almost make the full journey worthwhile.
After the impressive opening, you are suddenly in a quiet, storm-free desert – and you are a bird. You make your way forward along a deceptively linear path. As a bird you can fly anywhere and land in certain places, but you can also transform into a child who explores on foot. Much of the gameplay and puzzle solving revolves around swapping between bird and child forms. Flight gives you the chance to explore large areas and plan out puzzle solutions without restriction, but the child can actually move objects and pull switches. Controlling the protagonist is harder than it should be in both forms. The camera is erratic, making it difficult to land when you are the bird, and the child often gets hung up on geometry while the camera clips through the environment. I also had to restart one puzzle multiple times as the A.I. put in place to assist me would inexplicably lose its motivation or get stuck in corners. The immersion was constantly being broken when I should have just been looking around in awe.
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As you’re solving puzzles, you journey deeper into a strange dilapidated world that shifts and rebuilds itself around you while freeing your captured bird brethren or delivering gigantic strange golden balls to the masked creatures seen in opening. You don’t know exactly why you’re making your way toward your destination or doing what you’re doing, but the landscape is beautiful, showcasing a place that was built up like a city, only to topple and fall apart before your eyes.
It all looks stunning, but the direction you need to go is often unclear. The atmosphere is impressive, but getting lost made me struggle to appreciate it. In one instance, while trying to figure out my next path, I accidentally sequence-broke the game. This placed me in the next location without the tools I needed to continue, forcing me to fall back on a previous checkpoint.
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So many little things cause frustration and create unnecessary hurdles, but when the game is functioning, and you are able to maintain a reasonable pace of discovery, Vane delivers strange and creepy moments that compelled me to see what was coming next. The climax leading up to the finale is so odd and interesting that I immediately restarted after finishing and played through the whole game again just to try and wrap my head around it. I didn’t walk away with an explicit understanding of what this world went through and how I was connected to it all, but I am still pondering specific imagery from the journey, like conveyor belts transporting cages through a series of caves or the strange masked creature looking down at me from above as a violent storm swirled around it.
Vane feels like an indescribable fever dream when it works, relaying a wordless story about a transforming creature trying to figure out its place in a world that appears to be falling apart. Too often though bugs and a lack of clear direction reminded me that Vane could have used a little bit of extra development time for polish.
Summary: Vane establishes intrigue early and a few high points almost make the full journey worthwhile, but frustrating moments pepper the whole experience.
Concept: Explore a mysterious world and solve puzzles as a creature that can transform between child and bird forms
Graphics: The dark, atmospheric art style does a fantastic job selling a world that feels like it came out of a bizarre dream
Sound: The music is great, offering a moody, synthwave soundtrack that recalls the music of Blade Runner
Playability: Whether you’re controlling the child or the bird, movement is a struggle. The child gets caught up on the environment often, and directing the bird to specific landing spots is difficult
Entertainment: Vane’s atmosphere, music, world, and abstract story are affecting and strange, but the bugs and design lead to unnecessary frustration
Replay: Moderately low
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is an adrenaline-filled thrill ride that soars high with excellently crafted dogfights, responsive controls, and payloads large enough to crack the planet in half. As your fighter rips through a narrow canyon in pursuit of a bogey with a death wish, Ace Combat 7 delivers top-tier intensity. In these moments, the music swells, your wingmen scream for immediate success, and if your rocket hits the mark, you feel like Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star. The battles often culminate in exciting and nerve-wracking ways, but not without some turbulence.
Developer Project Aces taps into the latest military technology to introduce new planes and more potent adversarial forces for the series, but the overall game design resembles an old warbird that feels like it’s going to shake apart before it reaches the runway. The missions, their pacing, and the rewards they bring leave much to be desired. The game is designed to be a throwback to the glory days of the series, drawing heavily from the gameplay direction of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War. While honing in on what made combat great in that title, missions have a lot of downtime, and objectives like scoring challenges feel like filler activities in between the meaningful dogfights.
When you are engaged with rival ace pilots, different weather conditions often up the challenge; you may need to dart into the clouds of a raging storm to trail an adversary. This affects visibility conditions, and your plane gets batted around by strong winds – maybe even struck by lightning. When this happens, the electrical surge scrambles the HUD, making targeting and tracking enemies more difficult. It’s a little annoying to lose targeting, as it seems like it comes down to the random chance of a lightning blast, but it ups the chaos and makes you panic – it’s effective. Weather and low altitudes are also used to give missions a layer of complexity. For instance, you sometimes must fly at dangerously low altitudes to avoid radar detection – the series’ version of stealth, which functions well and delivers plenty of excitement in slower moments of specific missions.
The dogfighting mechanics are Wright-brothers-old in terms of gameplay design, but are still reliable, dynamic, and all about outsmarting your foe. After highlighting an enemy, the dance of positioning begins, with a large green arrow telling you which way to fly. To an onlooker, this may look ineffective at times, as your plane appears to be looping aimlessly, but the goal is to line up behind your adversary as close as possible for a quick rocket blast that can’t be evaded with flares. This process is as challenging as it is thrilling. As you spin through the air, you and your adversary exchange lock-on warnings before one of you eventually lands a shot. The skill-sapping targeting from Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is nowhere to be found in this installment; it’s old-school Ace Combat design against the series’ hardest foes and it’s glorious.
Yes, you square off against a new group of rival aces, but the biggest threat comes from drones, which can turn on a dime and are not affected by g-forces. These new threats are tied to a complicated story that once again sees the Osean Federation locked in war with the Kingdom of Erusea. The Ace Combat series has told great stories in the past, but this is not one of them. It begins as a fascinating tale about a mechanic struggling to find her place in her family’s shadow, but quickly becomes a preposterous journey of prisoners being forced to fly fighter jets to save the world. It plays out like a Fast and the Furious story that is trying to be touching and serious, but it just doesn’t mesh. I ended up laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, but yes, it does make for some silly fun.
Over the course of the 20 story-based missions, you earn credits to purchase aircraft, weapons, and upgrades, but you can’t freely pick what you want. You need to purchase items along paths that make up a sprawling, spiderweb-like store. If you see a plane you want, you may have to buy some stuff you don’t desire just to reach it. This design keeps the balance in check, as souped-up craft are at the ends of the paths, but it creates the problem of the using the same vehicle for numerous missions in a row, as you likely can’t afford other planes that will make a difference when you need them. The series was better off when it handed out planes as rewards for progress and kills.
You can earn additional money by venturing into multiplayer, which includes an eight-player Battle Royal mode (no, not “royale,” but it is everyone against everyone). Taking on other players is a test of skill, but almost every one of my matches ended with no one being downed. The player that dealt the most damage ended up winning. Part of the problem is a five-minute time limit, but it mostly comes down to the evasion and dogfighting tactics being damn good and players knowing how to survive. The homing capabilities of missiles definitely could use a boost here, as the matches end up going nowhere. You see a couple of enemies go down in team death match, which allows for multiple planes to engage a singular target, but battle royal has been hilariously uneventful for me.
For fans of this long-running series, this is the Ace Combat we’ve known and loved for decades, and it’s great to have it back. The dogfighting is rightfully the highlight and will give your reflexes a good workout.
The VR Vomit Comet
The PlayStation 4 version comes with an exclusive PlayStation VR mode that makes no concessions in how the game is played. Rotation speeds are virtually the same, meaning you’re going to feel it. Using head movement to help track enemy vessels is pretty damn cool, and the sensation of movement is wild – especially when spinning or flying close to the ground. The entire game cannot be played in VR, and the headset is only used for a unique mini campaign, which is fun in its own right. The VR aspect isn’t a selling point, but if you do have the headset already, it is worth checking out for the sensation of hitting extreme Gs. Just make sure you have a barf bag nearby.
Summary: This is the Ace Combat we’ve known and loved for decades, and it’s great to have it back.
Concept: A thrilling continuation of a series that hasn’t had a mainline installment in 12 years. Dogfighting is once again the main attraction, but the story and missions often miss the mark
Graphics: The aircraft are highly detailed, and the settings that have sci-fi inspirations look great. Trees and buildings occasionally pop in, but dense clouds and weather conditions often hide it
Sound: The soundtrack is all over the place, bouncing between choirs belting out doomsday tones and guitars playing upbeat melodies. The odd arrangement works well, and is joined by constant chatter of wingmen and roaring missiles
Playability: Even on the advanced settings, the controls are arcade-like and designed to keep the action simple to manage. Each plane and weapon brings something different to the battlefield
Entertainment: The game makes you work for each kill, and as a result you feel like you’ve achieved something notable with almost every ace you down
Although Goichi Suda has had his name on most of developer Grasshopper Manufacture’s output, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is billed as his return to the director’s chair for the first time since the original No More Heroes. Travis Strikes Again is smaller in scope than most recent Grasshopper titles, but it’s a confident return to the wilder side that made the studio famous, in both its rough edges and its willingness to venture into strange places.
Travis Touchdown is looking for the six mysterious Death Balls, a collection of game cartridges for an obscenely rare and deadly console called the Death Drive Mark II. The Death Balls are said to grant one wish to whoever collects and beats them all, and Bad Man, whose daughter Travis killed in the first No More Heroes, hopes to revive her. As Travis and Bad Man team up to descend into the world of each Death Drive game, they find the games corrupted by bugs and taken over by Juvenile, an eccentric game developer with a sordid history. The plot functions more as a vehicle for cool moments than anything else, but those moments are pulled off with aplomb.
While the setup implies each game will be vastly different, they all use the same hack-and-slash combat as their base. Fights move quickly, with a mix of crowd-controlling fodder enemies and zeroing in on stronger enemies that require a little more finesse to take down. Early encounters are a bit mindless as you learn how to maneuver and execute different attacks, but later encounters required me to think more critically about how I approached them.
You also find a number of equippable skills that let you tailor Travis or Bad Man to your liking, adding an interesting layer to combat. While I wound up with a couple of staples, I regularly came up with combos I thought were unbeatable (like dropping a time-slowing field to set up a guided laser that took a few seconds to fire), only to swap them out after facing a boss or fight that kept me on my toes. It’s not as intricate or engaging as other action games, but each level introduces just enough twists to keep things fun, even as the enemy and combat encounters taper off near the end.
You can also play the entire game in co-op to make things easier, but unfortunately my partner and I kept finding ourselves offscreen since the view doesn’t zoom out to keep up with the action.
What makes Travis Strikes Again shine, however, is how it brims with style, and how it uses its combat as a jumping off point for some cool aesthetic touches and setpieces. In one game, you fight through waves of enemies in order to get parts for a motorcycle, which you then use to compete in drift races with vector-graphics. Another pays homage to the original Resident Evil, with a mansion foyer acting as a central hub. And without spoiling too much, things only get weirder and more referential from there.
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Between levels, you learn how Travis acquires each new Death Ball by reading through a retro visual novel, which has its own share of references and surprises. You can also explore Travis’ trailer, reading blog entries about the different kinds of ramen you eat throughout the game, buying and wearing different T-shirts (most of which feature logos for various indie games like Undertale, Hyper Light Drifter, and Hotline Miami), and reading short magazine spreads with fun write-ups of every game and a few cheat codes, both real and fake. Although these segments are relatively minor, they made for a great distraction and doubled as a change of pace from the combat.
Travis Strikes Again finds a good balance between fun, approachable action and reveling in Suda51 and Grasshopper’s signature style. It’s not the most intricate action game out there, but the simple combat works well as a vessel for several one-off moments that elevate it above its simple premise. It’s more of a prelude than a main event, but both on its own and as sign of things to come, Travis Strikes again is a promising return to form.
Summary: Travis Strikes Again is smaller in scope than its predecessors, but no less weird and surprising.
Concept: Return to the world of No More Heroes in a side story that’s smaller in scope and offers a different flavor of weird
Graphics: Characters, bosses, and levels have a lightly cel-shaded style that looks dated, but the stylistic trappings that permeate the game more than make up for them
Sound: Some neat remixes of the No More Heroes theme are the highlight of the soundtrack, which mostly sticks to standard synth and boom-bap loops
Playability: Combat is fairly simple and can occasionally be frustrating, but the emphasis on crowd control and skill combos keeps things interesting for most of the campaign
Entertainment: Travis Strikes Again returns to the more stylish tendencies of early Grasshopper Manufacture, with decent combat elevated by a strong sense of style and writing
Replay: Moderately low
Horror fans have had a number of asymmetrical multiplayer games to choose from in the past few years, from the procedurally generated killing fields of Dead By Daylight to the iconic Camp Crystal Lake in Friday The 13th. Last Year: The Nightmare (launching exclusively on Discord) joins the fray with tense and stylish five-versus-one matches that faithfully capture the gory kills and cat-and-mouse chases the genre revels in. Unfortunately, Last Year isn’t just late to the party – it’s also underdressed, lacking the depth and variety of content necessary to keep players coming back for the long haul.
Like the other titles of its ilk, Last Year is built on a simple premise: Five students are trapped inside their school by a maniacal killer, and must escape or die trying. Reaching the exit requires the endangered teens to first accomplish a few basic objectives on each map, such as finding gas canisters to fuel a generator or retrieving computer disks to operate an electronic door. They can also increase their chances of success by barricading doors, rescuing killed allies from the closets they respawn in (a mechanic taken straight from Left 4 Dead), and using scavenged scrap to craft class-specific items, such as smoke bombs, flamethrowers, and the almighty football helmet, giving them a little extra incentive to explore and prepare.
The students can’t dillydally, since the pursuing psychopaths have their own tricks. In addition to a character-specific ability such as snagging victims with a throwable hook or smashing through walls like a murderous Kool-Aid Man, each killer can also lay out beartraps, rig crafting materials with poisonous gas, and teleport to new locations when the survivors aren’t looking. This makes the lone player controlling the killer a much more powerful and deadly predator than the students he or she is stalking.
While not particularly original, Last Year’s core formula is still exciting, occasionally delivering genre-perfect jump scares, like when the Slasher shatters through a skylight and plants his axe in a target’s head, or when the Strangler ropes a victim down into a dark vent for a Pennywise-inspired instakill. Each map also ends with its own unique dash to freedom, setting up exciting escapes and heroic sacrifices as the clock runs down. These final races to the exit always provide a satisfying thrill, assuming the survivors live long enough to see them.
Unfortunately, surviving comes with quite the learning curve. Last Year features no tutorial or ability to practice with the characters, so you’re forced to learn on the job during your first several matches. In addition to getting a handle on the unique ability and crafting items of the different classes, knowing the routes, bottlenecks, and shortcuts of each map is also vitally important. As such, newcomers are a serious drag on experienced teams, which isn’t fun for anyone. The same is doubly true for playing as the killer. Expect to serve up lopsided victories to well-coordinated teams as you learn when and where to engage players and how best to use your abilities. Playing as the solo player in five-versus-one games is always a stressful affair, and Last Year’s total lack of onboarding doesn’t help.
While Last Year’s learning curve can be overcome with time, you will likely have grown tired of the game’s limited content by the time you get good. Last Year currently only features one mode, three maps, and three monsters to choose from, allowing you to see and do pretty much everything in an afternoon. The complete lack of progression (outside of some rudimentary leaderboards) also leaves little incentive to keep coming back. Like with many multiplayer games, Elastic Games plans to provide a steady stream of content updates to players, but the game is starting well behind contemporaries like Dead By Daylight and Friday The 13th.
Playing as the survivors is heavily dependent on communicating and coordinating with your team to stay ahead of the attacker. Being on mic is a virtual necessity; you can’t just forgo voice chat entirely and expect to fare well. The random strangers I was paired up with (and forced to listen to) had a huge impact on my enjoyment from match to match. Landing on a friendly team makes all the difference for newcomers, but is far from guaranteed given how small the playerbase is at this point, which isn’t exactly a great sign for the game’s future in its own right. Muting offensive players is an easy enough option, but unless you’re the killer, you are handicapping yourself more than most games every time you silence a teammate – even if they really deserve it.
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In addition to a crazed killer, players must also currently face a number of bugs and balancing issues. In one match, I crafted a helmet only to have it hover directly in front of my face, completely obscuring my view for the remainder of the match (which didn’t last long, as I blindly walked off some scaffolding a few minutes later). Balancing issues like the overpowered taser and the uphill battle killers face on the library level are common topics of complaint in group chat, as are connection problems and lag. So far, updates have been sparse since launch, which raises serious questions about whether the small developer can deliver on the loftier promise of providing new maps, killers, game modes, and more as part of its “evergreen content strategy.”
Every match of Last Year begins with a cutscene of the students poring over a blueprint of their escape, a rudimentary roadmap of the adventure to come. At this point, that feels like the development stage Last Year is currently at. The core gameplay offers moments of undeniable excitement, but without more depth, variety, and some sense of progression, Last Year won’t survive long against the competition.
Summary: Last Year’s five-versus-one matches deliver plenty of thrills, but the game needs more content to keep players coming back.
Concept: Give horror fans another chance to live out their slasher-film fantasies in five-versus-one multiplayer matches
Graphics: Last Year looks great thanks to a strong, exaggerated art style that brings the schoolyard environments and humorous character archetypes to life
Sound: The purposely campy voicework is well done. All of the killers sound appropriately demented in their own ways
Playability: The control scheme is simple enough, but you need plenty of practice to be competitive
Entertainment: Last Year’s core gameplay is solid, but the thrills are short-lived due to a lack of content
Replay: Moderately Low
Thanks to classics like The Prince of Persia and Another World, the cinematic platformer was the genre of style in the early ‘90s. The combination of rotoscoped visuals and movement gave characters weight, which made these games fascinating to play – even with their awkward controls and cheap deaths. In spite of its name, The Eternal Castle Remastered is not an actual remastered game from 1987; it’s a beautiful homage to the genre that has you playing a wanderer (whose gender you select) in a mysterious land searching to repair their ship and rescue an acquaintance. Along the way, you have to fight bosses, solve puzzles, and exercise your shooting finger against an arresting pink-and-blue backdrop of a CGA-inspired alien world. The particulars of the story are nothing special, but the setting and visual vibe are enthralling.
The Eternal Castle Remastered is an unabashed nostalgia trip. At its best, it conjures dazzling vistas and convincingly spooky houses with black shadows. Watching the pixelated figures move across the screen animatedly is also a joy to behold. From its menus to its gameplay, The Eternal Castle is as believable as a cinematic adventure game from 1987. Unfortunately, that also means it isn’t always fun.
Movement is just as clunky as it was in the platformers of yore and the controls are often frustrating, sometimes bordering on infuriating – especially when you’re required to complete multi-step actions like running and jumping off a ledge to grab onto another ledge. Moving often feels like your character is sliding across ice rather than moving with two feet, making delays in starting and stopping frustrating and often fatal. One segment has you running across rooftops while fighting or avoiding foes – sometimes mutant monsters, sometimes humans – and a miscalculated jump can send you plummeting to your doom (and there are a lot of jumps). A generous checkpoint system and laborious stamina meter that depletes with every action are the only genre modernizations The Eternal Castle brings to the table, but it’s not quite enough to offset the annoyances of its adherence to archaic design.
The stamina-based combat is as frustrating as navigation. The only maneuver you can do to avoid blows is roll across the ground; the rest of the time you’re just spamming the attack button to shoot or strike. Your stamina bar ticks down every time you punch, run, roll, or jump. This isn’t a big deal when you’re fighting off one or two enemies, but the combat isn’t fun to pull off, given that you’re just hitting one button over and over until the foes is dead. It’s fighting that requires no rhythm or strategizing – most of the time success comes down to plain luck more than skill.
Things get more disappointing in big battles, though. One section has you fighting against a lot of foes in a narrow hallway with only a hammer. The setup is a cool idea (riffing off the infamous Oldboy scene), but you’re just repeatedly knocking down foes in the hopes that your stamina meter doesn’t deplete before you kill them all. In the end, these encounters feel like a bunch of enemies are lining up for you to punch them more than you actively fighting a group of foes in a frantic battle. Likewise, the few boss fights are great to look at but mostly frustrating to complete. The bosses move quickly and have a fair amount of health, so they just pummel you until you manage to roll around enough to dodge them and trick them into hitting each other. It doesn’t help that every time you lose one of these fights, you have to watch the intro to it all over again. The Eternal Castle has all these grand, fantastic-looking set-pieces but none of them are actually entertaining to play.
Instead, The Eternal Castle Remastered is at its best when it turns down the action and plays more like a conventional puzzle-adventure title. One early segment has you facing an armed opponent telling you to vacate his property. You can draw your own gun on him, but you don’t have nearly enough ammo to take him down. Instead, you need to look around for an (immensely enjoyable) solution in the environment. The simplistic stealth sections, which have you crouching in the shadows created by a graveyard’s tombstones or house’s furniture to avoid monsters as you look for solutions to a puzzle, are also satisfying because they instill a sense that you’re overcoming the odds by using your wits rather than your brawn.
I left my time with The Eternal Castle Remastered extremely impressed by its aesthetic achievements but more than a little let down by how much the gameplay feels like a chore. The quality of its visuals are undeniable, but sometimes it’s better leaving certain things, like clunky controls, in the past.
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Summary: The Eternal Castle captures the magic of cinematic platforming’s past but the past isn’t always a great thing
Concept: Explore and escape an alien world in an adventure that seeks to capture the magic of classic cinematic platformers
Graphics: Every frame of The Eternal Castle is beautiful, though action and animations are sometimes hard to read
Sound: The lack of a score highlights every thump of a body landing and fist thrown, which makes the atmosphere engaging
Playability: Though the basics are easy to understand, the player is expected to accomplish a surprising amount of complex tasks with limited functions. As a result, The Eternal Castle is often frustrating
Entertainment: The Eternal Castle successfully captures the visual magic of cinematic platforming, but it’s unnecessarily frustrating thanks to poor controls
The NEX Dual Display is nothing short of original, yet still surprisingly easy to understand on a conceptual level. In more ways than one, it is the sum of vivo’s pre-existing efforts in coining a fresh new and more functional mobile design. One that … 繼續閱讀
A little phone that isn’t small. A flagship that costs a third of what you’d expect. A contradiction? No, it’s the Pocophone F1. Shocking? Awe-inspiring? Yes and yes. The most intriguing handset of the year isn’t the most bezel-starved, or one with sl… 繼續閱讀
The Mario & Luigi series, which is a spiritual successor of sorts to Mario RPG for Super Nintendo, has received five entries since the release of Superstar Saga in 2003. The series is well-liked, but generally speaking, Bowser’s Inside Story is the fan-favorite. It has the best writing, highlights the series’ best original villain, Fawful, and makes Bowser a playable character in a big, fun way. The original holds up as a fun RPG and is playable on 3DS thanks to backwards compatibility, so it wasn’t one fans were demanding receive a remake, but it’s here now and is worth a look, especially if you skipped the original.
As the title implies, much of adventure takes place inside of Bowser after he eats a magical mushroom that makes him inhale everything in his path. You switch back and forth between the Mario brothers walking around inside of Bowser, helping and hindering him as the situation demands, and playing as Bowser as he explores the overworld in an attempt to take back his castle. The story and dialogue is some of the best in the Mario & Luigi series, and all of that moves forward for the remake generally unchanged. The characterization of the cast, both the longtime Mario staples and the original characters, is enjoyable and often genuinely funny.
The Honor View 20 is a long-anticipated and teased smartphone that was released last month but this is the first chance we got to be acquainted with the handset here at CES 2019 in Las Vegas. To be frank, we had some private time with the View 20 on i… 繼續閱讀