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10:33 AM on 09.03.2013

Spelunky PC Review

Spelunky hates you. A lot. It isn't a friendly game and it isn't afraid to kill you over, and over again, until you learn the ins and outs...

With this punishing platformer making it's way over to PC, I have finally been able to experience it, along with all the accompanying challenges. The focus of Spelunky is a 'roguelike' in the fact that when you die, that's it, gotta start all over again from the top. As the name would suggest, you spelunk your way down through the caves, to the jungle and beyond. There's a surprising amount to see, and it's made all the more satisfying to do so when you consider how difficult it is to make it through all 4 sub-levels without dying. Of course you're not going to see most of it on your first runs, nay, your first 100 runs; due to the trial and error nature of the game. It's going to take a long time to see all the game has to offer, that's down to your own inexperience and that some events are random, as are the levels themselves.

These events range from having a dark level, where you must carry around a torch to light the way, to a jungle area becoming infested with the undead. None of them sound good, but as you encounter the situations more, you'll discover the various ways to take advantage of them. That's the beauty of Spelunky; past the initial tutorial (only teaching you the basic mechanics) nothing is explained, it's all left for you to discover, for better or worse. I won't lie, it leads to some increasingly frustrating deaths that you simply can't see coming, it wasn't common enough to force me to rage quit, but it's there. For the majority of the time, it comes down to close observation and being constantly aware of your surroundings. Spiders will fall from the ceiling, arrow traps need to be set off by throwing other objects, and any skulls on the ground have a chance to rise as skeletons. It'll take a long time to train yourself to look out for all of this, but I can guarantee that after 35 hours of playtime (or so Steam tells me) it's extremely gratifying.

With this being the PC version, there are keyboard controls that are fully rebindable! That's definitely a plus, however, a controller is still the way to go with Spelunky. The precision movement required in the game is vital to success, and with your two modes of movement being: slow walk, and insane (but very precise) running, digital controls don't cut it. Analouge movement works perfectly, and when you master the running speed you'll be zooming about the stages with total disregard for your safety. At least that's what I did, then I learned to have a mix of both caution when necessary, and ludicrous speed the rest of the time.

A fine balance, one that can rarely be achieved in the co-optional (local only) multiplayer. The problem here is that one person has a flag, symbolising that they are the one deciding the movement of the screen. It centres on them, and if you're scrolled off for too long then you're dead. Fun! This opens up so many opportunities to annoy your friends, which is amplified when all the players can kill each other by throwing rocks, or a multitude of other horrible things. A full 4 player co-op simply isn't possible in my experience, with 2 players it may be manageable, but you gain no benefit. In a few ways this comes as a disappointment, although it's clearly not the main focus, it merely exists as a mode to screw around with. So in that sense... it succeeds.

Furthermore, there's even a multiplayer deathmatch mode, and yes, it's even more hectic than co-op. Fast-paced action, with battles rarely going past 2 minutes, you are forced to use the mechanics you've learnt in a new way. Throwing bombs to knock people into spikes, using ropes as a weapon is hilarious, as is going mental with all of the other items in the game. It's a lovely, frantic break from the main game with friends. Although I can't help but feel that it would have benefited greatly from randomly generated arenas; it only has 64 levels, that sounds like plenty until you see only 8, with the necessity to unlock the remaining 56.

Finally, a significant addition to the Steam version is the Daily Challenge mode. Such a small change adds a lot to keep you coming back. Essentially it's a single level seed that everyone can only play once, then your score (amount of money) is put on a leaderboard with a ton of competition. The longevity this adds for competitive players is immense, keeping you coming back every day to see how much money you can collect, training up beforehand as well.

Spelunky may hate you, but you'll love it if you don't mind trial and error, you get better and better until you begin to go for certain goals like the 'Speedlunky' achievement. You could watch some videos before playing it to avoid some of the cheaper deaths that may annoy you, but that deprives you of certain moments of amusing, unknown deaths. I'm holding back and not saying a lot of the more in depth aspects of the game, for your sake, it must be experienced first hand. It may not be for you, but Spelunky isn't trying to be that game for everyone, and that's absolutely fantastic.

9/10 – For more info please watch my 'Look At' video above!   read

5:12 PM on 07.23.2013

What's Next For Games Instead of Better Textures?

With the release of the PS4 and Xbox One drawing near, there's a lot of talk about what we want from it and what developers are going to do in order to take advantage of this much needed hardware upgrade. But what can we hope to get out of these new endeavours that isn't a simple upgrade in textures?

Improved Particles and Lighting

In the gameplay demos we've seen thus far, there's been a focus on the very impressive particle effects, namely in inFamous Second Son. Delsin has a slue of new abilities, although only smoke has been shown, with that comes incredible particles, all glow-y red and such! It makes the powers much more fascinating to discover and use, I honestly want to see what they look like, just as much as what they do. Knack also displays the particle possibilities of the PS4, with Knack being made up of a ton of gold-plated Toblerones! These appear to grow in size and amount, being the core gimmick of the game, it's a cute little thing, with a dark side from what I've heard. It's always great to see people making fun, casual games for launch titles that don't waste the new possibilities that come with more power.

Furthermore, lighting in games will most definitely improve. Already, Hitman Absolution, Metro Last Light and a few other PC games have given us a taste of next-gen lighting. With coloured light reflecting off of other surfaces: Agent 47's shiny head makes for a perfect lens flare effect when exposed to the sun. Metro Last Light was especially prominent in showing off lens flares, particle effects and overall some of the best lighting in any game. It added a lot to the immersion and atmosphere, so to see console gamers finally get that excites me. No longer will we see jagged shadows on almost every console title, unless it's a massive open world I believe.

Even though I'm a PC gamer, I play consoles from time to time and the next generation only means better ports and games that will take full advantage of our modern hardware. Square Enix in particular has done a fantastic job with their ports, going above and beyond on what many publishers neglect. The new Unreal Engine is paving the way for new lighting and particles, and it's look good.

Bigger Crowds, Better A.I.

Crowds are something that detract from many games, it breaks the illusion of a bustling city, Hitman Absolution has had success in this department, but at the cost of many NPCs being clones of one another. Some games that could benefit with larger and more dynamic crowds are BioShock Infinite, Sleeping Dogs and The Witcher 2. The magical world of Columbia was ruined in some parts for me, with ridiculously small crowds for a city in it's prime.

Fairly sparse for a huge fair, isn't it?

I hope that the A.I. of these crowds will also improve; we can see that Watch_Dogs might have some of the most dynamic A.I. we've seen in an open world game. If it's pulled off as well as it looks, then we may be seeing the future of artificial intelligence in games.

Larger, Detailed Open Worlds

The game that stands out to me in this aspect is The Witcher 3: sporting a massive world that appears to be just as detailed as The Witcher 2. I just hope that it can also correct the main problem with Skyrim, that being a lack of interesting story or characters, if CD Projekt Red are able to create something that comes close to that, we're in for a very, very special game. The devs have proven themselves in the semi-linear RPG genre before, but to craft a world of that scale, whilst filling it with the same amount of quality as their previous games is a tall order.

Utilising the Cloud and Always Online

Forza 5 is already using the cloud to improve the A.I. Of the drivers, making them more like you by studying the way you drive, they call it a 'drive-atar'... yes it's possibly the dumbest thing ever. The whole 'Xbox 180' doesn't mean that every game on it (or the PS4 for that matter) is guaranteed to run offline. Expect companies to use the excuse of 'the power of the cloud!' to enforce always online on to their games. It's surprising that we're already getting into this with Forza and TitanFall, well before developers have had time to tap into the full potential of this new technology. I'm curious if we really need some of it, although it would be nice to see a graphics option in more console games, one that produces higher resolution textures, or further render distances if you connect to the servers.

More Players

Pretty obvious one here, Battlefield 4 will finally have 64 players on the console, while still being able to handle the immense destruction. I wonder what advantages the PC version will have other than the usual graphical enhancements now that the consoles have finally caught up. With a beautiful engine like Frostbite running all of these players at once, expect to see many more games featuring the ability to play with many more people.

Now that GTA V has teased the huge multiplayer for PS3 and 360, the fact that Rockstar are able to do that on this generation of systems is insane. It makes me all the more excited to see what talented teams like them have in store for next-gen. We'll also be seeing the MMO genre expand into consoles much better with the added power, games like Final Fantasy XIV, Elder Scrolls Online and Planetside 2 and more are coming. So it should be interesting to see how well they will function non-PC systems...

And much more...

There's no way that I've listed all the awesome developments coming our way as we finally move out of this stagnant generation, so if you have any more ideas, please let me know down below!

P.S. If someone could tell me how I get rid of annoying code next to underlined sections then I'd appreciate it! I lean towards GiantBomb because of these problems...   read

5:17 PM on 07.09.2013

Rogue Legacy Review

As the name suggests, Rogue Legacy is a 2D roguelike game  in which you fight your way through a procedurally generated castle, playing as many, many different people, all continuing your legacy. These characters each have traits, classes and spells, and you'll never see the same combination twice! There are many things that will entice you into Rogue Legacy, making you come back time and time again, despite the many deaths required to progress.

First and foremost is the constant changing of your character; you won't last long in the castle (one that branches out to a lower dungeon, a forest and a tower) and whenever you die, you will have to select the next sibling to continue your lineage. You can get up to 2 traits per selection, these range from being big or small, to having vertigo, making everything upside down. Some are perks, others aren't, others are just for fun, things like colour blind, making the game black and white. As simple as this mechanic might sound, it makes every time you choose a new character interesting and very different, you have to decide whether or not a detriment is worth having if that's the only one of the three that has the class you want.

Classes are an even more crucial part of your decision, there's the typical aspect of some are more powerful but can take less damage, however, Cellar Door Games have made some unique classes that change the gameplay quite a bit. The Miner for example, is able to get 30% more money from the gold you pick up, yet he is both weak and fairly defenceless. Forcing you to play more conservatively, maybe you want to skip past most enemies to get to the chests containing all the gold your miner desires!

After you select your class and such, something that only becomes tougher over time as you unlock more classes and upgrades for them. You will be allowed to upgrade various things in a talent tree format, represented by a manor. This isn't limited to abilities though, you also get entirely new classes this way, as well as a blacksmith and enchantress. All of this is essentially what you progress the most in the game, whenever I had a good run through a castle before dying I couldn't wait to get back into the game and spend my gold on a ton of upgrades. Actually, it's very rare that you find enough money to allow you to upgrade all that much, making a single upgrade feel like a big impact to the game. What makes choosing what to buy more personalised (and daunting) is the fact that all upgrade stick, once you've spent your gold it's gone for good.

Oh, and you'll want to spend ALL of your gold, because as soon as you go back into the castle, any remaining change will be taken from you by 'Charon'/the money reaper. Later on in a playthrough, this means that even if you've returned with just over 300 gold, there may be nothing to buy and in turn you forfeit that money. It's a sad state of affairs whenever that has to happen, but it pushed me to want to do better in further runs of the castle. The procedurally generated nature of which is half of the fun... and frustration.

What does this mean?

Well you may find a dungeon with a layout you despise, I died in the fourth room of one of them because of the precarious layout of spikes, platforms, and enemies. This can lead to sad times when it happens to a fighter you adore the class and traits of. But you'll be back, they always come back.

I found myself incredibly determined to do well enough to find a castle mapped out to my pleasing, or at least one I enjoyed getting around. When you do find one like this, it's possible to lock it down each time you re-enter, at the cost of 30% of your gold. This adds an element of strategy that was completely unexpected: did you see a part that only a dwarf can enter, but wasn't one? What if you didn't have a dwarf as a selection when you 'respawned'? You could challenge one of the bosses you may have found or continue exploring, but as you upgrade and get more classes, the chances of you getting a dwarf trait appear to lower. Is it really worth going through this same castle over and over just in the hopes of getting to that one secret, when you could be getting 100% gold if you start anew? The choice is up to you.

This randomly generated castle isn't without it's flaws; there are times when enemies will spawn inside walls, making them pointless, tiles are commonly cut off in the top corners of rooms. Other than that I haven't come across any other problems in my time playing Rogue Legacy, it's a solid game, and it feels like one. At least when you play it with a controller, for a PC title, the PC controls don't feel good at all, you can rebind them though. Although with a 360 pad, or whatever you choose, the controls are tight, responsive and feel like they were designed with a very specific feeling in mind. Nothing is out of place, every death is your fault, no matter how much you'd like to blame the random dungeon.

By rewarding you almost every time you die with the option of upgrading, Rogue Legacy avoids the trap of becoming too laborious a task to wade through. The gameplay is fun and satisfying as you improve killing and avoiding lethal blows, meaning that the game has what makes others in the same genre fun and rewarding (albeit to a lesser extent), on top of the more clear progression system in the manor. One that has clear rewards and relies on gold rather than grinding the same enemies for hours on end.

Speaking of enemies, the variety in them could be better, what's there is good. Yet, it gets to a point where it becomes more noticeable that they're simply re-skinned knights, skeletons, casters etc. that perform different and more powerful attacks. This is more variation than many games that feature procedurally generated levels provide, though it doesn't make the fact that it can become tiresome to fight the same enemies. This is due in part to the high level required to venture to the forest, dungeon or tower areas – which all contain some new adversaries, with a few reskins here and there.

Only two things stay consistent in Rogue Legacy: money after you die, and the armour and abilities bought with that. The constant change in layout, placement of chests and secrets make running the castle time and time again an absolute joy. With you almost always progressing in one way or another, getting to (and eventually beating) each of the four bosses in order to unlock the door at the start of the castle is incredibly addicting.

I found that this is a great gem to play whilst you have a podcast or video going on in the background or on a second monitor, and when that finishes your face is more than likely going to be glued to your screen. That's not to say the music or sound effects aren't any good, they all serve the retro style of the game and are appropriate to the protagonists and antagonists. Although I wish there were more tracks, what Cellar Door Games have made is enough to satisfy, especially when you consider how catchy they are.

Special mention must be given to the joyful pixel art of the game, that and the humour infused throughout, mainly in the trait descriptions, do wonders in making you enthusiastic enough to continue your quest. The retro-vibe has been done to death, but when done right, it can look just unique and give off enough charm to make it worth while. A lot of attention to detail has been put into each model and environment in the game, making each random castle feel fairly cohesive.

In conslusion, Rogue Legacy is the most addictive roguelike I've ever had the pleasure of playing, unlike FTL or Binding of Isaac, I kept on coming back to it. Why? Well I wasn't forced to start all over again, I could lock down the dungeon, and if I didn't then it just meant that more treasure was abound, more upgrading, more fun! For $15, the amount of playtime you'll get out of it and the New Game + if you decide to persist is insane. A few flaws don't detract from the overall enjoyment you'll receive from Rogue Legacy.

Written by Ben Lucas (@TheYouthfuls)   read

10:43 AM on 06.27.2013

The Last of Us In-Depth Review

The Last of Us is a game that could have been another Uncharted, Naughty Dog could have pumped out a similar game to their previous best, though this time with zombies. However, even with so many easy ways out, The Last of Us never allows itself to stoop so low...

You play as Joel, 20 years after the fungal outbreak that has destroyed America, and brought with it the rejuvenation of plant life. He is entrusted (for various reasons that will not be spoiled) with Ellie, his task is to take her to a militia group known as 'The Fireflies', who fight back against the military that have taken control of a majority of the population, organizing it in disagreeable ways. This is what leads to an adventure, spanning a year, split into the four seasons.

Winter is the portion of the game that stood out to me the most.

Throughout the game you'll be treated to the stunning scenery of organic life reclaiming what was once lost, this makes for arguably the best looking game on the PS3. Yet there are still moments where you can see the limitations of the 7 year old console, blurry textures and a few dips frame rate, especially in areas with the impressive water and lighting effects. Furthermore, the advantage of the timespan of this journey is played to full effect, with obvious changes in weather and atmosphere that really make the most of it's theme of nature.

At the heart of The Last of Us is Joel and Ellie, the two protagonists of the game give life to otherwise lifeless situations, commenting on various things in the detailed environment. The conversations between the two, especially when Ellie asks Joel about things that were typical in life before the outbreak. Small touches like this are what build these characters, making you care about them because you know how hopeless everything else is. In the midst of this, Ellie is a beacon of hope; even though she is far more hardened than your usual 14 year old. It is her gleeful remarks at what we take for granted, that not only reinforces just what the world has become, but also what we can salvage and preserve for possible future generations. Giving you an incentive to protect her, although she can't be killed for the most part.

You will probably relate far more to Ellie than Joel.

An important aspect to this is the lack of dissonance between the cutscenes and gameplay. Almost everything that happens in the gameplay is acknowledged in the cutscenes and vice versa, you won't find any strange mood swings here; if Ellie gets annoyed at Joel in a scene then she will present that through physical and verbal actions in-game. This is one of the most important things in the game to me, and if you would like to read more about it then please refer to my last article, in which I also discuss this...

Some may complain about the lack of choice in the game, however, these characters have been written in a specific way, their actions make sense given their personalities, and to give you some sort of moral choice would go against that. You don't need choices to make a narrative truly compelling or ripe for a game, and Naughty Dog proves this by having Joel and Ellie be two of the most interesting people I have ever come across in any game. The chemistry between them drives the game and you forward, and it's all done beautifully, with Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson giving their absolute best in every scene.

Finally, let's get on to the gameplay, I know it's hard to believe it exists when there's so much outside of it! Nevertheless, this experience would fail in my eyes if it wasn't backed up by some interesting, albeit not very innovative, gameplay. Luckily, The Last of Us delivers tight controls and a 'stealth' mechanic that feels unlike almost anything else. I say 'stealth' because Joel is no Sam Fisher, you don't stick to cover, nor do you have the ability to roll or even walk while crouching very fast. Due to this, you must plan out things before hand, very rarely are you able to go from one hiding spot to the next with quick timing. This leads on to the aid of the game: Joel's listening ability. With this, Joel is able to visualise the area by listening to footsteps, people talking, or clickers clicking. At first I felt that this would be overpowered, however, the fact that it uses sound that isn't always present and has a distance limit. Listening, among other aspects of Joel, such as health and weapon sway, can be upgraded through pills you acquire. This doesn't necessarily make sense in the realistic world created, but it's satisfying progression and rewards those who explore.

The Last of Us features some of the most intense combat ever.

Every kill has an impact, Naughty Dog has pulled off the feeling of doing what you have to in order to survive perfectly. Most of the time I found myself not wanting to engage in combat, not just because it could waste valuable supplies, because I don't want to kill guys that have been talking about how they found some bacon. Not only do the main characters in the story feel human (due to the voice acting and motion capture), but the enemies do too, calling out to each other about how they should tackle Joel. Unfortunately, this makes the glitches in the AI all the more apparent, completely making immersion sometimes; more than once I had guys get stuck in doorways walking back and forth. Their field of view is painfully low as well, there were so many times where I felt I should have been spotted, yet they just continued to casually walk by... when it works it's incredible AI though.

Another strength of the game's combat is the crafting system, enhancing the survival theme. You aren't able to pause the game and craft medkits instantly, instead you must find a place where you will have enough down time to craft the items you find the most important at the time. Items share the same resource type, forcing you to carefully decide what to create for each situation.

Like the rest of the gameplay elements, the crafting isn't anything new, still, like the others it manages to be pulled off at the highest calibre. Joel doesn't feel like an insanely powerful human being, capable of pulling off amazing feats, he's just an average man. You don't have perfect aim, perfect movements or a perfect personality. These imperfections improved my time with The Last of Us just as much as the perfections; it made it a different game than so many others at the moment, not afraid to put the player at a disadvantage.

The game isn't afraid to slow down and let you just look around.

The infected barely cross my mind, for about ½ you are fighting humans, although when you are thrust into sections filled with terrifying Clickers (who use echolocation like bats with a clicking sound) a surprising amount of patience is needed. Not only must you crouch, but the thumb stick can't be pushed all the way, this forces you to have steady hands despite the horrible noises coming from all around you. The developers knew that this would be a tougher challenge, and all too often do we forget that there is space in between an analogue stick being stationary and pushed all the way to the edge. As if that wasn't enough, Clickers are a one hit kill, and when surrounded by a pack of Runners (stage 1 infection) time is short and you're often forced to expending a lot of ammo to make it. These horror elements always add to the game and never outstay their welcome, it's a not-so-delightful balance between horror, calm scenery and hostile humans. We are treated to the same excellent pacing as seen in the Uncharted series, one of the few aspects carried over from that franchise.

The Last of Us transcends what it so easily could have been, though not with grace, but brutal violence, death and enormous amounts of tension. Naughty Dog has gone about and beyond, whilst not being afraid to take it slow for long segments that punctuate the intense action. It is this and so much more that make it an incredible game, one that you absolutely must play. So much so that I could go on for about three more paragraphs about the little touches and animations. Glitches and problems with AI prevent it from being a 10/10, but it's damn close...


Written by Ben Lucas (@TheYouthfuls)

4:55 PM on 06.21.2013

The Last of Us - Playing A Character, Not Being One

Before I write my full review on The Last of Us, I feel I should write this to focus on a specific aspect of this incredible game: the idea that you are playing a character, not being one, simply controlling someone in this story. At multiple points throughout my journey in the post-apocalyptic, nature reclaimed America I noticed that I wasn't moving a guy with a gun, someone who only has character in cutscenes, but in gameplay is restricted to a mobile weapon. This is a problem that has plagued many games, BioShock Infinite to some extent and more famously in the Uncharted series (ironically being made by the same developers). However, I can excuse Uncharted; that is an Indiana Jones-style, action, adventure game, therefore the dissonance can be forgiven in favour of a fun and engaging time.

These problems are not present in The Last of Us, the game constantly reminds you that you are playing a living, breathing, character in the form of Joel. Whether it be his comments after fighting, 'that was too damn close', a phrase I found myself returning to time and time again after intense battles, that (on hard mode) left me running low on supplies. Or after picking up and reading a note, in many games you forget that there is someone holding out this note in front of them, reading it just as you do. Naughty Dog reminds you every now and then with Joel giving his opinion on the ideals of the person behind the note, letter etc. Small details like this separate The Last of Us from other 'triple A' titles.

Furthermore, they keep you immersed and grounded in the environment, whilst giving you hints at what the Joel's persona truly is, what his beliefs are and most importantly, what his decisions will be throughout the game. There aren't any choices as to where the narrative of The Last of Us goes, but there doesn't need to be. This is the story of Joel and Ellie, their characters are presented to you and you can't change how they are, the writing is some of the best I've ever seen, spoken with some of the best voice acting I've ever heard. The fact that Joel does some things you may not agree with, or like doesn't make the game bad, it means that you aren't the protagonist, you are pushing him forward, but that does not give you the right to dictate his personality. As 'anti-gamer' as that may sound...

Without spoiling anything, at multiple points during my time with The Last of Us I was surprised with how the story continued, many were, and many of us were looking for another option of where to take the story, yet the developers give you none. After being shocked by this, I came to the realisation that these are who the characters are and I shouldn't want to change that; to do so would ruin the impact of the story and how unique it truly is.

Games can either put you in the role of someone, with you essentially being this person, Gordon Freeman is a wonderful example of this. Or they can allow you to play as a character, one with a personality all their own, Naughty Dog pulls this angle off with flying colours, making sure you remember who you are manipulating. By doing this, they have managed to allow what happens in the gameplay to impact the cutscenes and vice-versa, and half of the story is told through the sections where you are in full command of Joel's actions. With notes and various other pieces off to the side for you to discover, and in doing so, discover more about Joel and Ellie. This is what stood out to me most in The Last of Us, these small touches that can easily be missed, but all come together to form an incredible game that doesn't feel any less of what it could be by what some would call 'restrictions' with the lack of true choice. That is an achievement that should be commended as much as the beauty the graphics or feel of the gameplay...

Written by Ben Lucas (@TheYouthfuls)


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