Fortnite Battle Royale Review

*Review based on the Nintendo Switch version*

Poor PlayerUnknown’s BattleGround. PUBG quickly rose to prominence in 2017, created the current trend of ‘battle royal’ games, and became the smash hit of the year, outselling long-time heavy-hitters like Overwatch and League of Legends. But around the time PUBG was becoming a phenomenon, Epic Games released Fortnite, a survival shooter in which groups of players faced waves of zombie-like creatures while also gathering materials to construct safe houses to better combat the creatures. PUBG’s popularity caught the eye of Epic Games, who then used the assets of Fortnite to create their own battle royal title. Thus Fortnite Battle Royale was born (and the original Fortnite now earning the “Save the World” subtitle), and quickly beat PUBG at its own game. Sure, PlayerUnknown’s BattleGround can still claim to be one of the best-selling games in history, but for a game that essentially became a cultural phenomenon, it probably had the shortest time in that level of spotlight than any other. And it has Fortnite Battle Royale to thank for that.

But is Fortnite Battle Royale actually better than PlayerUnknown’s BattleGround? Truth be told, they may be too similar to actually make a definitive call on that. But there are some differences between Fortnite Battle Royale and PUBG that at least justifies their competition.

Like PUBG, Fortnite Battle Royale sees players skydive onto an island, where they then scavenge for weapons and items for their inevitable confrontations with other players. Meanwhile, the safe zone on the island continue to get smaller and smaller, with players stuck outside of it quickly taking damage, thus forcing players into a more confined space.

The key gameplay differences here are that Fortnite Battle Royale has a stronger emphasis on team-based match-ups, and that Save the World’s construction mechanic remains intact.

Players are equipped with pickaxes, which they use to gather wood, stone and metal from the environment. With these materials, players can build  constructs to better maneuver the island and protect themselves from enemy fire. It’s a nice little Minecraft/Terraria twist on the PUBG gameplay, but you can definitely tell that the element wasn’t designed with the battle royale mode in mind. Switching between combat mode and building mode, and then cycling through all the options within them is just too cumbersome when you’re in the middle of a firefight. When enemies start destroying your walls and safe houses faster than you can build them, it gets all the more tedious. It’s a nice mechanic in concept, but it’s obvious it was made for the player-versus-environment half of Fortnite.

The emphasis on teamwork also makes Fortnite Battle Royale a more easy-going game than PUBG, since you can still rack up extra points if one (or more) of your teammates are the last ones standing. And the more points you get the more cosmetic items you unlock, which may be where Fortnite Battle Royale actually beats PUBG, instead of simply matching it.

In contrast to PUBG’s vanilla FPS visuals, Fortnite Battle Royale has a more cartoonish look, with cel-shaded visuals and outrageous character cosmetics (rainbow afros, mascot costumes, etc.). Even the environment is comprised of random oddities like Maui heads and beach balls. Even the aircraft that drops players onto the battlefield is a party bus attached to balloons. Some might say the cartoony aspects of the game clash with the survival aspect – and indeed it never matches the suspense of PUBG – but the added personality definitely sets it apart.

On the downside of things, Fortnite Battle Royale suffers from many of the same technical issues as PUBG. Environments and textures can take a long time to load, character movements can get sporadic and jittery, and so on. The technical issues may not be quite as bad as in PUBG, but it is a shame that such issues are still present in a title that had a larger developer behind it.

In the end, Fortnite Battle Royale is more complimentary to what PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds started than it is an improvement of it. It’s just as fun, the construction element – while maybe a little tacked on – helps differentiate things a bit. If PUBG gained a lot of momentum, it makes sense that Fortnite’s added does of personality would lead it to take the battle royal torch and run with it.

 

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Dark Souls Review

*Review based on Dark Souls release as Dark Souls Remastered*

Dark Souls is a difficult game. Many enemies and bosses can kill you with one stroke, deadly traps will lead to instant death, and invading players always have it out for you. The challenge of Dark Souls has become the stuff of gaming legend. And yet, that difficulty is hardly the summation of Dark Souls. Rather, the steep challenge is justified by being part of one of the most tightly constructed, immersive and overall satisfying experiences in all of video games. Yes, Dark Souls is difficult, but it’s so much more than that.

Director Hidetaka Miyazaki followed the blueprint of his earlier title Demon’s Souls when crafting this spiritual sequel. Dark Souls transcended its predecessor by delving into deeper gameplay territories. The most prominent of which being its merging with the Metroidvania sub-genre, with each land to be discovered in the game connecting with another, and shortcuts between them to be found once you meet the right requirements.

The world in question is Lordran, one of the great settings in video games. The people of Lordran suffer the curse of being undead. Unlike most fantasy stories, the undead of Dark Souls look like human beings, but they are unable to die, instead losing more and more of their humanity upon death, eventually becoming a ‘Hollow’ (essentially a mindless zombie, and more akin to what is usually labeled as ‘undead’). Players take on the role of the ‘Chosen Undead,’ who escapes from the Undead Asylum and arrives in Lordran, where they begin a pilgrimage that is destined to bring them face to face with Lord Gwyn, an old god responsible for the undead curse.

As is the standard for the series, most story and world elements are intentionally vague, with snippets of character dialogue and flavorful descriptions of items giving insight into the world of Lordran. It proves to be one of the more effective means of video game storytelling, with players able to delve into the narrative should they choose, or simply bask in pure gameplay.

From the get-go, Dark Souls’ gameplay presents a staggering amount of variety: Players can customize their character to be more focused on heavy physical damage, magic attacks, healing, quick strikes, and more. And even when you do decide which direction to take your character, there are still several different routes you can take with each build. Even the core gameplay provides different styles, whether it’s a weapon in one hand and a shield in the other, two weapons, a weapon and a staff, there’s no shortage of options. You can even swap into holding a weapon with both hands at the press of a button.

The depth in gameplay just never lets up. There are new mechanics constantly being introduced, and some which are so subtle you may not realize they were there until late into the journey.

Two of the key mechanics players will need to know are souls and humanity. Souls are acquired from defeating enemies, and work as both experience points to level up your character and currency for buying items, weapons and armor. Humanity is a bit rarer, being an occasional drop from enemies and scattered about the world, as well as rewarded for helping other players fell bosses. When the player dies (and you will die), they become Hollow which – along with making their character look more deathly – prevents you from summoning other players for help. Adding to the game’s challenge, every time you die, you lose your souls and humanity (though you retain unused humanity in your inventory). You have a chance to reclaim your lost earnings if you can return to the spot you died, but if you die again before you make it, you lose everything.

The now-iconic Bonfires serve as checkpoints, but are also where you spend souls to level up, repair and upgrade equipment, and where you can spend a humanity to undo the effects of Hollowing. Resting at bonfires also refills your Estus Flask – your primary source of healing – and you can increase the usage of your Flask at any bonfire you’ve kindled, which also costs a humanity. Suffice to say, discovering a new bonfire after a series of rough patches is a godsend.

The sheer amount of detail that emits from every environment of Lordran is staggering. The level design is among the best of any Metroidvania title, with every destination being perfectly staged with enemy and item placements, not to mention secrets around every corner (a number of which rival Symphony of the Night’s inverted castle in how they change and expand upon the whole experience). Even in its most painfully difficult moments, it’s all too easy to get absorbed in Dark Souls’ structure and depth.

If things get too difficult, you can always call on other players to help you out by finding their summon signs across the land (with players usually leaving them around bonfires and boss doors). You can summon up to two other players to aide you in an area until you rid it of its boss, but you can’t summon players when hollowed. There is a caveat to staying human, however, as whenever you’re not hollow you are susceptible to invasion by enemy players. Of course, if you’re getting stuck on a particular segment, or simply want to help or hinder someone else, you can always leave a summon sign or invade another player for a change of pace.

On its own, the multiplayer of Dark Souls – both cooperative and combative – has rightfully proven influential over the years, as it remains a fun and refreshing change from multiplayer norms. But to add another layer to everything, players can join Covenants throughout their journey, which often have their own benefits and rewards for both friendly and fiendish multiplayer.

I suppose we do have to go back and talk about the notorious difficulty of Dark Souls. While the game can get brutally difficult – to the point of intimidating some players – it’s never unfair. Whether its equipping the proper armor to withstand poisoning or finding the right spot to best hide from a boss’ devastating attack, there are always methods to what seems like madness. More importantly, there is always a sense of strategy, with players able to survive any onslaught if they know when to dodge, block or attack. While a lesser designed game may simply leave you throwing your hands in the air and giving up under such difficulty, Dark Souls is so well designed that it will leave you wanting to push yourself to see things through. Dark Souls may have you feeling like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, going about the same situation in different ways until you get it right. And when you do get it right, there’s seldom an experience in gaming that even approaches its sense of reward.

Though it was originally released in 2011, Dark Souls’ visuals have held up nicely, with the remastered version making it look all the more at home on current hardware. Better still is its art direction, which should rank among the best of the medium. There’s not a location or creature that doesn’t stick with you. Combine that with the game’s incredible musical score and unparalleled sound work, and Dark Souls is quite the spectacle, and presents perhaps the most absorbing fantasy world in gaming.

There are a few minor issues with Dark Souls, but nothing that truly undermines its overall excellence. Later in the game you gain the ability to warp between specific bonfires, though you may wish you gained the ability a little sooner when you find yourself going back and forth in the earlier half of the game. Then there’s the backstabbing mechanic, which is just far too easy for players to perform on one another. While being invaded by opposing players may be par for the course, it kind of sullies a lot of player-versus-player encounters when everyone is simply trying to pull off a backstab on each other in place of using their full moveset. But again, these are little more than quibbles.

Yes, Dark Souls is a very difficult game, but it’s so much more than that. While most of the video game world became preoccupied with trying to replicate the spectacle of Hollywood once the medium made the jump to 3D, Dark Souls instead feels more akin to what would have happened if the older style of games from the 80s and early 90s had evolved into the present day. Like the best games from those early years, Dark Souls requires its players to gain an intimate knowledge of its every last location and trinket in order to see things through. It combines those older traditions with one idea after another that are entire its own, and continues to build on them throughout its entirety.

Dark Souls is a difficult video game. But it also happens to be one of the very best.

Praise the sun!

 

10

Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Review

A kingdom reborn…

The original Ni No Kuni, Wrath of the White Witch, is not only one of my favourite games on what is arguably my favourite Sony console, but it is arguably the greatest modern JRPG in recent memory – ranking meteorically high amongst the small repertoire of contemporary greats. With its brilliantly realized world – complimented with gorgeously animated sequences produced by the masterful Studio Ghibli –, an exquisite musical score co-composed by the brilliant Joe Hisaishi, a Tales meets Pokémon battle system, and a surprisingly poignant narrative that resonates on multiple accords, Wrath of the White Witch is a rare treat of an RPG that never fails to impress. Its sequel, Revenant Kingdom, takes a number of steps forward -establishing some new ideas while polishing the original’s foundation – but questionably stumbles in other areas, arguably taking a few steps backwards. Studio Ghibli’s involvement is objectively non-existent, exposition is divulged in extensive text-based dialogue sequences, the intuitive hybrid active/turn-based system is entirely replaced by a simplistic, yet fun, action-based combat system, and its narrative is disappointingly shallow in comparison to the original’s emotional brilliance. Despite its disappointing nature, Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is an undeniably fun experience that is exceptionally beautiful and surprisingly engaging. Revenant Kingdom never reaches the resonating heights of its predecessor but manages to establish an aura of its own, thanks to its fantastic world-building and unexpected level of gameplay variance.

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Mega Man 11 is the Real Deal

I don’t get this “Mega Man 11” thing! It just looks like Capcom is trying to rip off Mighty No. 9!

All joking aside, I got to play Mega Man 11 at E3 today (after an excruciatingly long wait in line), and walked away very impressed with the game, which is now on my radar as one of my most anticipated titles of the year.

When Mega Man 11 was first revealed, a lot of fans were disappointed with the new visual look, and wanted another 8-bit throwback title. Personally, I think making another 8-bit entry would have felt a bit tired by this point. Besides, Mega Man 7 and 8 weren’t 8-bit, so it’s not as if Mega Man 11 is the first entry to go against the series’ NES roots.

“At least the long line included monitors with fun questions and factoids about Mega Man’s history. This was by far my favorite one.”

One concern I did have though, was that the new look may have meant a new direction for the series’ difficulty, and maybe ease things up a bit to grab a new audience. I’m not one of those people who demands that every game be extremely difficult, and that any game that’s on the easy side is automatically bad. But in Mega Man’s case, the difficulty is as much a part of the series as the Blue Bomber’s ability to steal the powers of defeated Robot Masters.

Although only one stage was available in the demo (Block Man’s), it proved to be pleasantly challenging. Perhaps more importantly, the challenge was brought about by some creative ideas in the level design, with the standout moment being Mega Man navigating through confined rooms which are on a conveyor belt heading for an insta-kill grinder. Mega Man has to shoot path-blocking stones, and navigate the rooms by jumping and sliding in order to escape them and, by extension, escape the grinder. But once one such mini-room is completed, there’s another one in line on the conveyor belt.

It’s concepts like that why platformers remain one of gaming’s greatest genres. Even with a template as old as Mega Man’s, getting creative with the level design is all the developers need to make things feel new again.

Additionally, Mega Man now possesses an ability to slow down time for a short while, with certain level elements and enemies taking advantage of the mechanic. One enemy hides within a spinning wheel, which has only a small opening for Mega Man’s blast can make it through. While Mega Man can time his blast to destroy the enemy under normal conditions, the enemy’s wheel spins fast enough to make it difficult to get the timing down. That’s when slowing down time comes in handy, as it turns the small opportunity to hit this particular enemy into a much bigger one.

The time-slowing mechanic is a fun little twist on the Mega Man formula, and hopefully a few similar mechanics are introduced to keep things fresh.

From what I can gather from my limited experience with the game, Mega Man 11 looks to not only revive the series after a notably lengthy absence, but also adding to the series’ norms in ways to make it feel like a proper continuation for the franchise, and not simply a throwback.

I was tentatively excited for Mega Man 11 when it was announced, but after playing a stage of the game, it’s really looking like the Mega Man title the gaming world needs…especially after Mighty No. 9.

“I’m a better Mega Man than Mega Man! I’m actually aiming my mega buster at the bad guy!”

Celeste Review

An inspirational climb to greater heights.

January has never been a heavy hitting month for video game releases – it functions as a relative calm before the storm. However contemporary showcases have proven to be a delightful exception to the rule, transcending January into a mainstay of quality. January 2013 saw the release of one of the best modern JRPGs in recent memory, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and January 2017 introduced the franchise resurrecting Resident Evil 7: biohazard, a franchise reviver and one of the best games of 2017. This past January also had a masterpiece simmering under the radar, the independent platformer with tremendous heart, Celeste. While its sense of scale is rather diminutive compared to the previously mentioned January entries, its level of quality never faltered, making it an undeniable front-runner for game of the year. Plated with its impeccable level design, brilliantly simple mechanics, and slew of deviating paths and hidden goodies, Celeste transcends into a remarkably defined staple of the modern 2D platformer. Its pitch perfect gameplay and refined mechanics are enhanced by its impeccably crafted pace and gameplay implementation, introducing new twists and turns at every corner, significantly upping the ante with each new chapter. Aside from its mechanical prowess, Celeste boasts one of the most beautifully crafted narratives to ever grace the gaming sphere, a creative element typically undermined or absent in mainstays of the genre. Celeste’s inspiring coming of age story is a breath of fresh air to the expanding portfolio of 2D platformers. While these two fundamental structures of Celeste are inherently separate, both exude an unparalleled level of quality, becoming prime examples of their craft and are seamlessly harmonized as a result. Celeste is not only a remarkable start to the new year, it is arguably the best modern 2D platformer, standing tall amongst the meteoric heights of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Ori and the Blind Forest.

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Goat Simulator Review

At what point does a joke go too far? That’s a question you’ll likely ask yourself when playing Goat Simulator, a game that’s sole purpose is to be as stupid of a game as possible. Now, games purposefully designed to be bad isn’t exactly a new concept, and at times it can make for some good laughs. This is the case with Goat Simulator, a game that will at times leave you howling, but will just as often have you wondering if its unfinished nature feels like part of the joke, or if it’s genuinely bad.

In Goat Simulator, players take control of – what else? – a goat! The goat is then thrown into sandbox environments, where the player gains points by doing… pretty much anything. Knocking stuff over, jumping over things, licking everything in sight, and just being a general nuisance will award you with points. So you basically just walk around the city messing with people. That’s it.

The premise is on a bit of the “so stupid it’s brilliant” side of things, with the game rewarding you for the stupidest things possible, and the maps featuring some hilariously surreal situations (enter a water tower and you’ll find yourself in a throne room filled with fellow goats, or bring bread slices to an oversized toaster and you can transform into a flopping slice of toast!). Messing around the maps doing such stupid antics can provide some good entertainment, despite its utter pointlessness. You can even turn on some modifiers – such as jetpacks – just to add to the stupid fun.

Where Goat Simulator begins to falter, however, is in its lack of polish. Developer Coffee Stain Studios purposefully left many of the game’s aspects unpolished – from graphical errors to inconsistencies in the game’s physics – all as part of Goat Simulator’s overall joke. While there is some humor to be had with seeing one of the human character’s ragdoll physics get all wonky after knocking them down, other elements – such as having the goat get stuck in place randomly, or being unable to lick an object that’s right in front of you – can get more than a little frustrating with how annoyingly frequent it becomes.

It’s the technical issues like this that keep stacking up which may leave you wondering if the joke of Goat Simulator is ultimately worth it. You may get a good laugh out of the first hour or so of the experience, but after that the game may go from being a funny joke to simply feeling like an unfinished product. Sure, that’s the punchline. But like any gag, if you keep recycling it over and over it loses the humor, and just becomes stale.

In a sense, Goat Simulator does accomplish what it set out to do by making a blatantly stupid experience that will likely leave a grin or two on your face. But you can’t help but wish that it could at least feel like a more fleshed-out game. The stupid charm can win you over for a while, but once that affect wears off, you’ll likely wish there were more to Goat Simulator than the joke. Just because the concept is stupid doesn’t mean the game had to be.

 

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PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds Review

*Review based on the Xbox One version of the game*

PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds is a rare kind of video game, the kind that – despite a heavy amount of drawbacks – nonetheless delivers the feelings it intends to elicit. When it was released in its early stages throughout 2017, PUBG’s popularity spread like wildfire, with even it’s open-beta becoming more widely played than titles such as Overwatch for a time. PUBG was only “properly” released at the tail-end of 2017. Though this finished product still feels largely unfinished, PUBG ultimately succeeds thanks to the intensity and atmosphere it provides.

The modder known as PlayerUnknown became somewhat infamous for his many mods to existing games, which modified them after the 2000 film Battle Royale, pitting players in an all-out fight to the death amongst each other. BattleGround serves as PlayerUnknown’s means of making his own game out of the concept.

The premise is simple: up to 100 players join a game, parachute onto an island, and scourge that island for weapons and armor in a fight to be the last person standing. Players only have one life, and the placements of weapons and items are randomized in every session, meaning you’re in a constant scramble to find the best gear before your opponents can do the same. Things get more complicated as time goes by, however, as the playable area of the island gradually decreases over time, and those caught outside of the safe zone will take damage and eventually die. Additionally, red zones show up from time to time, forcing any players within them to take shelter or risk being bombed. This means that the longer a game goes, the more the remaining players are forced into tighter scenarios to do battle, no longer relying on the safe hiding places the early game provides.

The ultimate goal is to be the last person standing, which is much easier said than done. However, because of the difficulty of that task, you are awarded points for your overall performance (how long you survive, how many players you kill, how many items you collect). If you can get well equipped and survive to the top 10, all while taking down a few opponents along the way, you’re guaranteed a pretty hefty score. On the downside of things, the points you get are only used to obtain customizable options for your character, which are of course obtained randomly, and more often than not, cost more points than they’re worth.

The core gameplay in mostly well done. Players can choose between first-person or third-person perspectives, each boasting their own advantages and disadvantages in combat. For the most part, the controls are your standard shooter affair. Nothing all that new, but certainly functional with its tried-and-true approach. What really makes PlayerUnknown’s BattleGround work, however, is the sheer intensity of the concept itself.

If you see another player’s parachute landing nearby when you make contact with the island, you know you’re probably going to have to fight them for gear early on. You’ll race to the safe zone once the warning of a decreasing playing field approaches, hoping you don’t run into a more prepared player along the way. You may take solace in finding some stronger weapons and equipment, and choose to hide away for awhile, staring at the entrance to your hiding spot and anxiously wait for a would-be killer to enter so you can (hopefully) get them first. You’ll jump for joy when you see an unmanned vehicle lying around, effectively ensuring you some protection in addition to fast travel; and you’ll quake in fear if you’re walking out in the open, but hear a running engine approaching.

It really is something else to experience. Though this all comes with the caveat of frequent long stretches between finding opponents – leaving some matches feeling uneventful and empty – it also helps build a good deal of tension. You’ll never not be on your toes in anticipation and dread. PlayerUnknown’s BattleGround is a fight for survival, and boy, does it feel like it.

Unfortunately, despite no longer being an open beta, PUBG still suffers from some appalling technical issues. You’ll notice many of the game’s textures will take a good while to load in a game’s early moments, your character’s movements may become jittery from time to time, and you may even find you’re not picking up items when you’re clearly highlighting them and pressing the proper button. At its worst, you may even get booted from a game at a most inopportune time (no small deal with how lengthy matches can get), and should you actually manage to rejoin the game you were kicked from, chances are another player will have killed you in the interim.

With a game this popular, it’s disheartening that so many technical issues persist. Hopefully as the game is updated and development continues, these rough edges can be smoothened out and the experience can become more fluid and polished. But as of now, PlayerUnknown’s BattleGround still feels like it never left the beta.

Still, unfinished though it may seem, PUBG still manages to produce a uniquely intense experience. It turns the multiplayer shooter into a survival-horror sandbox. By dropping players into a massive open-world, leaving them to fend for themselves and kill one another, PlayerUnknown’s BattleGround creates something that’s as engrossing as it is brutal and unforgiving.

 

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