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I am a human from Edinburgh, Scotland who likes games and likes to talk about games. I'll be writing at you occasionally. Hope you enjoy. Also I'm studying animation, which is fun.
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Kooram
2:36 PM on 02.13.2014

Risk of Rainácame out on Steam in November last year to little fanfare and little to no coverage as far as I could see. So yeah it's been out for a while but it's on sale on Steam just now so it's topical okay.áI've had the game since it came out and it was something of an obsession for me and a friend for a week or two, enough that I clocked in about thirty hours play time in those two weeks.

The game isn't very upfront about it's story but it's got a fairly typical set up; you're stranded on an alien planet and said planet is home to flora and fauna could be described as little standoffish at their best. Standoffish here meaning they want to tear your pixels up with their own, sharper, pixels. Combat is based on cool downs with each of the ten classes having a basic attack which you can use all the time, and three other abilities that function are a lot more powerful but can't be spammed like the basic attack can.

At the start you only have access to one class, The Commando, a fast gunslinger who can roll to dodge enemy attacks and has a very high attack speed. Things start off slow and easy with a simple command to find the teleporter and a few enemies to deal with along the way. Levels are prebuilt, but randomly selected and the teleporter is never in the same place meaning you have to scour the level looking for it dealing with monsters and hopefully collecting upgrades along the way. Once you find it things will get a little hectic.

Upon activation the teleporter will unleash an almighty fuckstorm of monsters and just for good measure it randomly spawns a boss from the game's fairly extensive list of larger monsters ranging from a gigantic worm made of lava, to a massive teleporting imp lord. You're then tasked to survive for ninety seconds and if you do you have to clean up all the enemies and only then are you allowed to progress to the next level. Now this sounds quite simple and it is, the only problem is that the difficulty rises steadily over time. There are stages, but progressing through to the next one doesn't make the game any harder, the game just keeps ramping up in difficulty every few minutes until before you know it you're at the center of one of maelstrom of creeping monstrosities all trying to rip you face off.

I absolutely love this system because it works so well with the game's RPG elements which come in the form of random item drops found in chests. It's such a great design decision because drops are random meaning that you can have a run of bad luck and might want to scour a level with extra scrutiny so you don't lag behind before progressing, but then if you waste too much time dawdling trying to get every upgrade in a level you'll get outscaled by time anyway and it leads to this fantastic creeping tension that keeps you with one eye on the clock at all times.á

Items are almost all passive and run the gamut from a mortar that has a chance to fire every time you hit an enemy, to a massive electrical field that increases in size whenever you kill an enemy and eventually grows to larger than the screen. Items stack and you can get monstrously overpowered especially if you get items that synergise well with your class; for instance the Commando's high rate of fire means he scales particularly well with on hit items such as the mortar mentioned above, whereas the tanky melee based Miner class benefits greatly from items like barbed wire, which passively damages enemies near you. The item list is pretty huge and below you can see just how extensive it is, and that's not even all of them.

As mentioned there are ten classed and what I enjoyed most was how differently they played to each other. For instance the starting Commando class relies on kiting and dodging enemy attacks whilst getting in as many shots as possible to maximise damaging whilst the Engineer relies on careful placement of his turrets and mines whilst firing grenades and missiles from a safe distance. My favourite class, the Miner, basically has a fucking rocket suit which you use to create a human projectile of yourself by blasting through waves of enemies and using the flames to roast them alive. Also he duel wields pickaxes. He's pretty cool. Most of the classes are fun to play and feel like they fit into the game's weird world very well though there a few, such as the Sniper and Enforcer that don't work so well due to the game's tendency to swarm you with approximately fourteen billion enemies at once.

Everything apart from the gameplay is superb as well, the art style will be familiar to anyone who plays indie games regularly but it's also instantly recognisable in screenshots etc, and I think that's the best praise a game's visuals can get. The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal too, all futurey synths ranging from ethereal ambient to more sci-fi thriller fare.

I would urge anyone with a passing interest in either rogue-lites or 2D platformers to give this one a try. It's 40% off on Steam right now so what the hell are you waiting for? I command thee.

Verdict: 8/10
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Kooram
2:55 PM on 02.03.2014

The gods are dead, and the sun has frozen in the sky. This is all the introduction The Banner Saga gives before thrusting you into a bleak and cold world on the brink of collapse. You're forced to take control of a band of refugees on the run from an army of mute, stone behemoths and sent on your way. That's all the information you're getting about the narrative because I don't want to spoil any of it here, but fans of Game of Thrones will appreciate the relentless melancholy at the heart of the tale, it's similarly frank approach to death, and it's varied cast of weary travellers.

I sat on this title for a while before finally accepting the inevitable and getting ahold of it on Steam. I then almost finished it in one seven hour sitting. It took me roughly eight hours to play through once and I was actually pleasantly surprised several times as the game kept on giving when I thought it was sure to end.á

Gameplay is split between managing the supplies, morale and size of your caravan and isometric turn-based battles whenever a rumble breaks out. The caravan managing is fairly simple; ensure that you have enough food to avoid starvation and take a rest to raise spirits when morale gets low. áDon't rest too long though as each day of rest consumes precious food and meandering on the road can mean you run out of supplies before reaching the next town.á

The combat is simple but challenging, and often you'll find yourself scraping through an encounter with just a couple of heroes still standing, and the ones who fall in combat have to take a day or twos rest before returning to full strength. Units have both armour and strength, with strength doubling as both a character's hit points and how hard they can hit, so the higher health you have, the more damage you deal. It's a neat idea and is implemented quite well. Armour has to be broken before you can take a crack at an unit's health and it's always a hard choice to decide between reducing an opponents armour so that they take more damage from future attacks and just directly hitting their strength outright to stop them from bowling through your own units straight away.

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Combat can get a little frustrating at times as enemies display some questionable tactics such as chasing down low health units you've moved away from the thick of the fighting. It doesn't really benefit them to attack a unit that has already been taken out of the fight especially when you are then given a free shot to stab them in the back with your high health heavy hitters. This is doubly annoying because not only does it not benefit your enemies it just means that the poor guy the enemy chased down has to spend a few days recovering meaning that the enemy AI has gone out of it's way to actively hurt it's chances of winning the battle but still inconvenience the player in the long-run.

The battles can also feel a little futile at times as there are few fail-states to be found, I only actually found one which was in the final battle of the game; whether there are any more I couldn't say. When you lose a fight the game just gives you a text box explaining how you were pulled unconscious from the battlefield and the game just trundles along regardless. Granted, whether you win or lose the fights does impact the story but the lack of a way to properly lose made the battles feel a little toothless at times and it's a good thing that the choices you make on the games overworld map feel suitably weighty and morally ambiguous to make up for the atmosphere of impotence one can get from fighting battles without real stakes. But make no mistake the game is playing for keeps and people will live and die by the choices you make and the paths you take.



I haven't yet touched on how utterly and obscenely gorgeous everything is. The wind-swept arctic vistas and weary solemn marches in the caravan sections inspire the sort of heart-swelling glee reserved for listening to your favourite album and the absolutely stunning combat animations feel like some new hardcore drug ingested visually. You've read it in every review of the game yet but you can't deny the feeling of old school Disney the art style evokes but I would hesitate to draw the comparison simply because it gives such a false impression of the grim tone.á

The Banner Saga is a game that weaves a tale of desperation and fear, of flight and heartache but it's a testament to the writing that the game includes moments of levity and hope to make it all feel real and not like some melodramatic soap opera.

This is one of those games that honestly could probably get a free pass based on it's eye-heroin visuals and epic, melancholy story alone but you'll be glad to hear that it isn't half bad as a game either. I wouldn't give this one a miss.

Verdict 9/10
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So the short version is that Black Flag is not only a sparkly new take on a tired old series but almost definitely the best entry in said series yet and you should almost definitely buy and play it for 38 hours like I did.

For the long version, read on.

For this particular outing in Animus-Land you'll take on the role of Edward Kenway, a likely lad from deepest, darkest Wales who sets off to the Caribbean to earn a fortune for himself and his fiancÚ working as a privateer, which for those who don't know is basically an officially sanctioned pirate. Also, just in case you were wondering, it never gets old having a Welsh protagonist.

As you may have guessed from the above Edward doesn't start the game as an Assassin but comes into the fancy trademark hidden blades and super swish hood by getting into a scrap with a not very nice Assassin. Then it's off to Havana for some fairly standard tutorial missions which introduce some of the core gameplay that anyone who has even looked at an Assassin's Creed game will be more familiar with by now than they are with some members if their own family. You probably know the deal by now: stabbing, sneaking, awkwardly standing next to strangers (otherwise known as the games blending mechanic,) stabbing, running, jumping, stabbing, shooting, and also stabbing. Then all of a sudden something cool happens.

You get a boat.



Specifically the Jackdaw. It's at this point the game gets good. Like really good. From this point on you're free to go and do basically wherever or whatever the hell you want in the game's world and what that will mostly be is sailing about being a goddamn pirate. As it turns out being a pirate is a lot more fun than being an Assassin, and most of the game's best moments will be spent on the deck of the Jackdaw. There's something uniquely exhilarating about firing a broadside into a Spanish galleon whilst riding a wave that would give Poseidon second thoughts. I have to confess I didn't play Assassin's Creed 3 so I can't speak to how the naval gameplay compares to the previous installment but I can tell you that the ship controls fantastically. The ship physics are just arcadey enough to make the game fun without sacrificing too much realism, though many a time I found myself chuckling at the breakneck U-turns you can pull off at the wheel of the Jackdaw.

The Jackdaw is not only central to many of the game's missions but also integral to the game's neat progression system. This time around you have to work for your cash. It goes like this; you board ships and take their stuff, which will be some combination of money, rum, sugar, metal and wood. Money is pretty self-explanatory and sadly the sugar and rum you just sell to get more money. Metal and wood however are very important as you'll need lots and lots of both to upgrade the Jackdaw and take out bigger prizes, which will then let you upgrade the ship further. The system is neatly worked into the main story so you have to have a ship which is up to snuff or you'll get blown to bits in certain story missions. The system does feel a little circular as beyond progressing in the main story and a few raid-boss style legendary ships to fight there isn't really an end goal apart from having a pimped out boat but it's better than in previous games where you would invest money real estate to progress only to find yourself sucked into a money singularity protected only by the fact you've already bought all the best gear.

The ground combat sections in the game are actually fairly few and short-lived which as it happens is more or less fine by me because whilst there have been some improvements to the sword fighting it remains just as not that great as ever it was. The most notable upgrade is moving the counter function to a single button rather than making you hold down block and simply waiting for enemies to attack. Now you have to time your counters Arkham Asylum style and then press the attack button to kill your opponent. There are other counter options but I fail to see why I would throw or "hurt" my enemy when I can just outright kill him. It's not much but at least a cursory attempt at making sword fights a little more challenging has been made and when boarding an enemy ship things do sometimes approach the kind of hectic chaos one would expect from having five or six dudes all swinging their swords at you. However I will never forgive the game for the brutes, an enemy type which in this installment randomly shower you with grenades no matter where you're fighting which often leads to the painfully immersion breaking sight of seeing the idiotic AI blow itself and it's allies up.

Also on the ground the tailing mechanics have seen a bit of an upgrade and it's now actually kind of fun to follow people around being all sneaky and whatnot. The addition of an actual sneaking mechanic in the form of the new stalking zones is a welcome change. It never failed to irk me in previous Creed's how there was no way to actually sneak in the traditional low profile stay out of sight sense.

The story starts off quite well and there is a clear goal in the form of Edward searching for The Observatory, an ancient piece of technology left behind by the god-like forerunner civilization introduced in previous installments, but the story loses momentum a lot of the times when it seems like it's picking up steam and there's a lot of faffing about. It is however mostly enjoyable faffing spent with famous pirate faces like Blackbeard and Calico Jack, the writing for whom is generally top-notch, especially Blackbeard. The game does take some serious liberties with history but that's to be expected from a narrative that is simultaneously about the ongoing conflict between the Templars and an order of goodly Assassins, and the ancient aliens theory.

Remember how I said at the start you take on the role of Edward Kenway in this game? Well like the other games you actually play as a modern human hooked up to an Animus who is in turn taking on the role of Edward. Thankfully you're not Desmond this time but a floating tablet, which somehow still manages to be a more interesting character. The present day sections are first-person and I am saddened to report that the change in perspective both from a character point of view and from your literal point of view do nothing to stop these sections for being as absolutely appalling as ever and I do not appreciate the game forcibly wresting me away from being a fucking pirate to have me spend ten excruciating minutes playing awful, corny hacking mini-games. These sections are blessedly short however and you can get back to the swashbuckling pretty quickly.

Black Flag injects a sense of fun and catharthis that the series has been sorely lacking for a few iterations now, and despite some problems detailed above the shift of focus to sailing and I repeat, being a goddamn pirate makes the game as refreshing as standing at the wheel of your vessel with the sea salt spray on your face.

Verdict: 8/10
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