Game Under Podcast Episode 96

 Game Under Podcast Episode 96

Game Under Podcast Episode 96

Click on Willem Dafoe to get our comprehensive review of Quantic Dream's David Cage.  We also Trademark Banter about the bush for a while and give our final impressions of Until Dawn.

- Phil Fogg

Dawn of War III Beta - First Impressions

Six years have passed since the last Dawn of War, and since then MOBAs have taken over. Most games in the genre have a colourful and blocky aesthetic, for example the genre’s reigning kings Dota 2 and League of Legends. Within the first few minutes of playing Dawn of War III’s Beta I noticed the change of art style. It’s more vibrant and chunkier than previous games, but it still has that gothic grim-dark flair that encapsulates the Warhammer 40k universe so well.

 WAAAAGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

WAAAAGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Within the first ten minutes of playing I noticed the MOBA influences. In the Power Core mode - the only mode available in the beta - you must destroy two shields, two turrets and finally the enemy's’ power core to win the game. Even the map layout felt inspired by the lanes featured in MOBAs, sans the automated creeps, with each lane leading to an important requisition node. That said, the real-time strategy elements in this RTS are still present. You need to capture resource nodes to gain requisition and power in order to build your army and expand your base. There are a nice variety of units of various shapes and sizes, from melee focused brawlers and tanks, to airborne skimmers and mechas. You also have three elite units, taking the role of heroes from previous games, each of which have their own unique abilities that provide offensive and defensive support.

Dawn of War II scaled things down from Dawn of War. There was no base building; the focus was on strategically managing a dozen or so units, positioning them behind cover in key choke points to annihilate the enemy. Each unit gained experience points and got stronger the more they levelled up, so it was important to keep them alive. Here, the scale has been increased, the base building has returned, and the levelling system removed. When the game is well underway there’ll be hundreds of units in many shapes and sizes duking it out on screen. It’s chaos of the best kind.

The game features three factions - Space Marines, Orks and Eldar - a more limited affair compared to the base four of previous games, which might be an effort to make each faction more distinct Though, I never had a problem with faction variety in previous games, even when the faction count was bumped up to 7.  

It definitely feels like a Dawn of War game, which is something I was afraid wouldn’t be the case with a post-THQ Relic. And while it may look different to previous games in the series it still has that ultra-testosterone, grim-dark flair we all know and love. Blending MOBA and RTS is an interesting experiment, one that feels fun enough in the beta, but only time will tell if it pays off.

Aaron Mullan

Bayonetta Now Available On Steam

In a shocking twist that will further delay my playthrough of the second game, Bayonetta is now available on Steam. 

Supporting up to 4k resolutions, Bayonetta has never looked this good. The game runs at a smooth 60 FPS at max settings for me, and even has Durante’s seal of approval.

If you’re a fan of beat-em-ups like Devil May Cry, which was also directed by Hideki Kamiya, do yourself a favour and check this game out.

X-Boxing Day

Normal observers would look at the photo below and see a crime against the environment, or perhaps just a mess of old black plastic boxes.

Avid console collectors would see the photo below and have quite a few memories. In the right foreground is one of the 14.1 million replacement power cables that were offered by Microsoft in 2005. The original cables presented a fire hazard and caused minor injury and property damage in 30 reported cases.

A less concerning, but more prevalent technical issue is the reason why I am now the owner of three original Xboxes.  According to Dean Takahashi's great book, Opening The Xbox the R&D team had to beg and plead Microsoft leadership for every component of their nascent console, which was essentially a scaled down personal computer.  As a result economy seemingly influenced the decision making process for non-critical components.

The launch DVD drive manufactured by Thomson was such one example, presenting tray ejection issues leaving discs scratched in some instances, but mostly just refused to remain shut or refused to open when "told". In even more cases the Thomson drives would not read discs at all -- a problem later shared by the Panasonic DVD drives that would replace them.

Ensconced in polystyrene in the right of the photo is the so-called "Duke" controller. Awkwardly large in size the controller was given the moniker because it could only be comfortable resting in the hands of the 20th century actor John Wayne.

 Original Xbox controller on top "Duke" compared to standard Xbox One controller.

Original Xbox controller on top "Duke" compared to standard Xbox One controller.

 Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates showing the Japanese launch controller, almost identical to the "S" version that superseeded the "Duke" in Western regions.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates showing the Japanese launch controller, almost identical to the "S" version that superseeded the "Duke" in Western regions.

Referring back to the image above, behind the Xbox on the shelf, a component cable adapter can be seen. This official Microsoft product presented a significant improvement over the composite cable supplied, allowing output in 480p, 720p and 1080i.

With both of my NTSC Xboxes not reading discs, I recently purchased a modified PAL Xbox that enables discs from any region to be played (the original Xbox was region locked). For a reasonable price (as discussed in Episode 95 of the Game Under Podcast) I am now able to once again access my respectable library of Xbox games on a system that, thanks to it's modification, loads games faster and more reliably than the intended operating system.  Which given the depth and volume of the original Xbox platform is richly rewarding. 

- Phil Fogg

 For more Xbox Nostalgia Click Here for my memories of the first day of Xbox Live

For more Xbox Nostalgia Click Here for my memories of the first day of Xbox Live

Nier: Automata Review

Nier: Automata is an unpredictable game. It’s a game that switches between twin-stick shooting, third-person action and 2D side-scrolling at whim. It can be a beat ‘em up like Bayonetta one moment, or a run and gun like Contra the next. It’s a game that unapologetically embraces the weird in gaming, and one that does it well.

In a post-apocalyptic Earth inhabited by constantly warring androids and robots, humanity has been exiled to the Moon, forced from its home by Alien machines hell-bent on destroying all mankind. Humanity’s only hope lies in a series of combat androids tasked with destroying these Alien machines, which the two lead characters, 2B and 9S, are a part of. 2B, a tough, stoic android, is partnered with 9S, her ever-curious male companion, and is tasked with aiding a local Resistance force settled on Earth. Since this is set so far beyond the events of Nier, the story connections are intangible at best, so new players can jump right in without missing a beat.

Taro please.

Taro Yoko’s games always had interesting stories, even if they weren’t all necessarily good ones. His games were often hindered by the gameplay - Drakengard making Dynasty Warriors look like Devil May Cry in comparison - so when it was announced that Platinum would be developing Nier: Automata, I was understandably excited.

And, of course, Platianum delivered in spades. Nier: Automata is a quick, stylish and often challenging game. 2B’s moveset isn’t quite as deep as Bayonetta’s, but it never feels lacking. The weapons all feel different, and even though there are only four subcategories - those being small swords, large swords, spears and combat bracers - each weapon can be paired with another to create new combinations. For example, pairing a spear with a large sword allows 2B to use the polearm as a makeshift dance pole and spin around with the sword extended, attacking all enemies within reach. Weapons can also be levelled up, which both increases their attack and unveils a small story unique to each weapon. 2B can also dodge, counter, parry and launch enemies into the air, all of which can be combined to create an intense flurry of stylish attacks that feels fluid. It’s a great feeling game.

Along with her vigilant companion, 9S,  2B is equipped with a Pod companion that provides her with a ranged attack. The Pod’s default attack is one that deals surprisingly good damage, but it also has a cooldown special ability called a program that deals devastating damage. Pods can also be customized with different programs to utilize different special abilities. For example, one creates a decoy that attracts enemies, and another spins the Pod around the player at high speed, annihilating any enemy that gets too close. If you have more than one Pod, all of which have their own unique default attack, you can charge up these special abilities to make them even more powerful. Unfortunately, being a Platinum Game, it often fails to point out certain small but useful abilities. There are a couple of Pod moves I accidentally pulled off before I knew they existed. Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t even know how to launch enemies into the air until about 10 hours in. It’s jump and attack, not back and attack, by the way.

When the game shifts perspective, which it often does, Nier can become a 2D side-scrolling shooter akin to Contra, one of Taro Yoko’s main inspirations, with the Pod becoming 2B’s primary weapon. This is also the case for when the camera shifts to a bird's-eye view and turns the game into a twin-stick shooter. These camera shifts sound like they could be jarring, but often change slowly enough to allow the player to get used to this shift in perspective. These changes keep the gameplay fresh and exciting; you don’t know when the camera’s going to shift while exploring a new area. Ironically enough, the only time the camera becomes a problem is when the game’s in 3D. There’s usually a lot going on visually, and sometimes the camera gets trapped on a wall, or even behind a multitude of enemies. Because of this it can be easy to lose yourself in large scale battles.

Nowhere is safe from Anonymous.

The RPG in this action RPG is based on the Plug-in Chips system. 2B, being an android, can be equipped with different chips for stat boosts and abilities. One chip can add a shockwave to your melee attacks, effectively making them ranged attacks that reach far-flung enemies. Another chip can heal you every time you destroy an enemy. Chips take up 2B’s memory, so you will have to sacrifice two weaker chips for a more powerful one. The HUD is controlled by these chips, so it’s possible to remove the whole HUD to save on memory. You can also combine chips, improving their stats and how much memory they use. You are given three separate loadouts, allowing you to experiment in combining chips.

The Alien machines come in many shapes and sizes. They range from blocky, cumbersome tin-man-looking fodder to giant, writhing snake-like fiends. Going toe to toe with these enemies always feels great. It’s epic diving headfirst into more than a dozen robots, dodging each of their devastating attacks, launching them into the air and vanquishing them one by one. Visually, the alien machines you fight make for an interesting juxtaposition with the elegant and stylish 2B and 9S.  

Sadly, Nier’s boss battles aren’t the standout I hoped they’d be, given Platinum’s credentials. They are usually visually engaging, but don’t quite provide enough interesting gameplay distinctions that separate them from battles against common enemies. However, there’s one extreme exception: a boss that went through so many twists and turns my brain was scrambling in trying to keep up as the camera constantly changed perspective.

Asking the real questions. 

The aptly-titled City Ruins is the first area you visit, and also the dullest visually. From this zone, the game opens up to a surprisingly varied world which boasts some beautiful and interesting environments - from a vast, barren Desert Zone, to the bombastic Amusement Park. The world may be aesthetically diverse, but it’s one that isn’t filled with much to do outside of the main story and side quests. The side quests function like short stories focusing on the inhabitants’ perspective of the post-apocalyptic world they inhabit; filling in the lore of the world. A few are also integral to understanding the main plot. They may not all be exciting to play, a lot are merely fetch quests, but even these ones feel rewarding for the lore they provide.

I said before that Taro Yoko’s games always have an interesting story, and story is where Nier: Automata’s leaps beyond its peers. Taro has always been interested in the darker side of humanity, and here he explores this motif through androids created by humanity, rather than humanity itself. The main themes of Nier: Automata are of fate and self-determination; specifically fate within recurring loops. It explores this both through the 14th android/Alien machine war and the progressive characterization of 2B & 9S. Without going into spoiler territory -  as this is a story that should be experienced for yourself - the way Taro Yoko seamlessly integrates these themes between the story and gameplay is something I don’t think I’ve seen done before: Nier: Automata is about androids and machines, so every part of the game reflects this from the chip system to the design of the menus and the intentional visual/audio glitches. It’s fantastic and beautiful storytelling, that’s really only possible in a videogame.

Nier: Automata is Taro Yoko’s crowning achievement. Apart from some minor gameplay inconveniences, it’s a strikingly captivating game that is equally charming, bizarre and depressing. One that is completely unpredictable and ultimately beautiful.

Aaron Mullan


 

What to do while waiting for the next episode of the Game Under podcast?

Pretend to be learning by listening to or watching a lecture on YouTube.

One of the best things about the internet is how easy it has made accessing public lectures. Okay, sure, it's pretty easy to go to public lectures in person (and they're often free, too), but most people under the age of 50 are probably too self-conscious to go, judging by the elderly audiences of public lectures on the internet*. Unless the subject is something controversial, in which case zealots of all ages attend to whinge during questions at the end that the lecture didn't represent their views verbatim.

Anyway, public lectures are great not because they're a particularly good way of learning about a topic, but because they become a meditatively relaxing experience, whereas when attending one in person you are part of an audience, so boredom or excitement is more likely than meditation. Unless you're the type of person to sleep in a cinema, or at the football. Or while driving. Oh, and those zealouts at the end? They're even more insufferable if you're sitting next to them. 

But not all lectures are orrated equal. Unlike lectures designed to sell books (think Ted's sensory overloads of commercial bollocks), some public lectures consist of condensed blocks of information on specialised subjects presented as simply and concisely as possible. When this format is done well, little concentration is required to follow every word; the information presented creates just enough of an inkling of what the subject is really about to pique one's interest in it and, because so little concentration is wasted on comprehension, it allows one to simultaneously listen to the lecturer while forming one's own thoughts on the subject based on the information being presented. This is the perfect balance for entering a semi-meditative state: focusing one's attention on a single subject without preventing one's mind from wandering (into nothingness, if you please).

Here are several lectures to get you started. You can pretend to be smart in no time, and all you need to do is procrastinate on YouTube (something you were probably doing anyway)!

This lecture is something of an anomaly: It's promoting a book, the lecturer is charismatic and regularly makes jokes, yet it nevertheless manages to successfully fulfill the above criteria due to how well he focuses on the most relevant information. Which, I suppose, is easier in archaeology than most subjects, due to the lack of information to base your conclusions on. ;)

Oh, and it's about the end of the world we're apparently facing due to globalisation and climate change but when it occurred (as it has with some regularity throughout history) over a thousand years before Christ may or may not have been born.

And the weirdest thing? It's a lecture at a sceptic's society that isn't designed for a bunch of bellends who like to make fun of people who believe in ghosts because it makes them feel smart.

Sir Geoffrey Nice worked as a prosecutor at the International Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, so it's no surprise that his best lecturers are about war crime law. But don't let that put you off, this particular lecture is about a war crimes tribunal that is less likely to turn you into a nihilist-atheist-hypocrite praying for the above apocalypse to occur than the official ones are. Spoiler: it turns out the best sort of war crimes tribunal for the victims of war crimes is one that has no power. Unless it's run by Russel and Sartre. Then it's as much of a political game of pin the war crime on the war criminal (a game much easier than pin the tail on the donkey, because even blindfolded you're all but guaranteed to win due to the size of humanity's brutal posterior). [My conclusion, not his.]

Given the subject matter, obviously it contains some disturbing images. Incidentally, consider why trigger warnings are offensive to so many, yet warnings before graphic news bulletins, or those stickers that ruin your videogame boxes, are not...

Professor Vernon Bogdanor is a man who loves England, loves history, and has an audience so appreciative that it laughs at every one of his jokes, no matter how silly, as if he's George Carlin**. And the Falklands War (when England defeated a tinpot dictatorship in a fight over an island England didn't actually want, then acted like it had won the 21st Century's Waterlooo) is a very comic subject.

Also, if anyone tells you we'd be living in a peaceful utopia if all politicians were women, just remind them of Margaret Thatcher. Or Angela Merkel in a few years time. 

Christianity, as much as many would like it not to be, is still one of the best ways to understand the feelings, thoughts and political mannerisms we have acted out in the West and continue to act out. This particular lecture is on Protestantism's role in abolitionism in Britain, then Britain and America (when America was no longer Britain). In spite of its conciseness, it's a very broad and complex depiction of its subject. Indeed, such broad and complex depictions are hard to find without a religious context.

*Oddly, the public lectures I've actually attended in person had very diverse audiences, the ages of which ranged from toddlers to geriatrics.

**Who technically made almost no jokes, and rarely got any laughs. So he's actually a more successful comedian than George Carlin. But then, George Carlin is probably a better lecturer.

Game Under Podcast Episode 95

Tom and Phil talk AAA development, but also cover the original Xbox, Yakuza Zero, Hollow Knight, Torment: Tides of Numenera, Doom, Scarface, Mafia III and some discussion of Nintendo's Switch

 That Switch is turned on.

That Switch is turned on.


Click Here <- That's the link for the show. You know how it works.

 

Hollow Knight Review

Hollow Knight, Team Cherry’s stunning debut game, has taken the Metroidvania genre to a whole new level, with its intricate exploration and challenging combat. Hollow Knight’s parallels to From Software’s Souls series are obvious, but make no mistake, it stands alone in its own uniquely desolate world.

Hollow Knight is a deceptive game; on the surface it looks simple, but it is much more complex than it lets on. When I played the sneak peak—which was limited to the first level, the Forgotten Crossroads—I was already surprised at how intricate it was. The more I played, the more shortcuts I unlocked, and the previously isolated caves became an intertwining web of tunnels and pathways. I compared Hollow Knight’s level design to From Software’s infamous Souls series in my first impressions, but in terms of intricacy and complexity, Hollow Knight is on a whole other level. Indeed, the levels are so intricate that although I completed it in 25 hours, it has a 3 hour speed run achievement. Early levels feature inaccessible pathways leading to later stages. As you explore, each level becomes a hub leading to every other level, allowing traversing the caves, even without the unlockable fast travel, to evolve from slow and meticulous to rapid and effortless.

In the ancient ruins of Hallownest, which lie deep beneath Dirtmouth, you can find many hidden secrets, treasures, odd friends and dangerous foes. These colourful characters have distinct personalities and quirks, and a select few will even set up shop in Dirtmouth. For a fee these shopkeepers provide some essential abilities, tools and items that aid you in your long travels in the perilous caves below. Other characters you meet provide you with the the lore and context of the world, and, much like in the Souls series, it’s really up to you to put the pieces together. One important character sells you a map, a necessity required for navigating the often confusing caves for the first time. The map will only update after you finish exploring and rest at a bench. These benches also replenish your health and act as save points.

Hollow Knight puts an equal emphasis on exploration, platforming and combat. The combat itself starts off relatively simple, with the unnamed character you play as only able to slash enemies, but as enemies begin to spit acid and throw spears, you learn to dodge and keep on the move. You unlock more evasive abilities and offensive attacks as you progress and the combat becomes increasingly more complex; the diverse array of insectoid enemies attack with more ferocity, and a variety of attacks and projectiles begin to fill the screen in an almost bullet-hell-like way. New enemies are introduced in each level, but some enemies return with reskinned looks and retooled abilities. Each unique enemy provides an interesting challenge as you try to figure out their attack patterns, and many of the reskinned enemies also add surprising wrinkles to the combat. For example, the flying mosquitoes that attack in a docile way early on become furious and unrepentant bloodseekers.

Not only are the normal enemies varied, but almost every boss is unique, each with a diverse set of attack patterns and quirks. Analysing these attack patterns is integral to defeating each boss. If you rush your attack it’ll lead to almost immediate death in most cases, as each boss packs a devastating punch. The boss battles are definitely the highlight of the gameplay, as they really emphasise the game’s dodge-based combat and put your skills to the test.

Progression is very deliberate and slow; when you progress it feels meaningful and game changing. Hollow Knight’s controls are tight and fluid; allowing you to deal with the intense platforming and combat with ease. As you attack enemies, your special souls meter fills; souls are used for healing yourself and/or attacking enemies in various devastating ways. In intense battles you have to balance healing and special attacks. Combat is complicated further by charms you buy from the vendors or find in the decrepit tunnels. When equipped, the charms alter your abilities in numerous ways, or even add new ones. For example, one charm can automatically absorb any coins dropped from fallen enemies or found in deposits of treasure; another decreases the cost of using your spells; and yet another gives you extra health, but takes away the ability to heal yourself. Mixing and matching these charms to create interesting combinations provides some variety in the downtime between acquiring new abilities. The platforming can be unforgiving, with seemingly impossible jumps and spikes littering the levels, but these sections are passable with patience and skill and reward you with charms, coin deposits and bountiful treasure chests. The combat makes great use of the platforming mechanics by forcing you to keep nimble and bob and weave as enemies bombard you from all directions with various attacks. Vanquishing enemies without a scratch is an exceedingly satisfying feeling when pulled off.

As mentioned before, Hollow Knight is visually stunning. Its hand-drawn 2D aesthetic looks painstakingly crafted, and is key to bringing to life the isolated and depressing atmosphere of its withered world. Each area has a distinct look and feel, and each is as gorgeous and haunting as the last; the barren and sterile caves of the Forgotten Roads are a far cry from the densely overgrown ruins of Greenpath or the violet-hued industrial caves of the Crystal Peak. Ari Gibson’s art direction coupled with Christopher Larkin’s chillingly beautiful, appropriately subdued soundtrack, propel the atmosphere beyond anything I’ve experienced in a 2D game before.

However, Hollow Knight’s major flaw is its obscurity. I spent a few hours lost in many levels because I either missed a certain ability, or an obscured pathway. Nooks and crannies where required items and abilities are to be found are often so small they’re easy to miss, even when checking the map. It was also difficult to remember every individual room, especially when there were so many distinct rooms containing only extra items unnecessary for progression. For example, you come across so many locked doors early on that when you finally find a key, it’s a tedious case of trying every previous door until one unlocks. And in most cases the item description only contains the vaguest of hints for where it’s meant to be used.

A more minor complaint is a technical issue; the game sometimes stutters, often in the middle of a jump or an intense battle, resulting in loss of health, or death. Though, Team Cherry have already said they’re working on this, so expect it to be patched soon enough.

Nevertheless, Hollow Knight has set the bar for other indie games; it may appear simple, but its complexity rivals the Souls series from which it draws much of its inspiration. The combat and platforming are tight and satisfying and the character progression keeps the game interesting and fun right to the end. The cherry—pun definitely intended—on top is the unrivalled art direction and soundtrack, which complements the intense gameplay to create a uniquely withered and bleak world.

- Aaron Mullan

Now that NoClip is a travel agency, try something completely different instead

Yes, it's in French. Yes, you have to read subtitles (amusing, considering the video content he shows is dubbed in French!). And, yes, it's a dude improvising a review over a video of the game he's reviewing, while he plays the game. If that doesn't sound bad enough, did I mention he's French?

Yet his stream-of-consciousness critiques are tres haute cuisine, and this one in particular indulges irreverently in one of Game Under's favourite guilty pleasures, criticising videogame criticism (see title), while masquerading as videogame critics.