REVIEW: Steamworld Dig 2

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: PC, Mac, PS4, Vita, 3DS
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 11 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

The nuts and bolts of Steamworld Dig 2 are built like a classic Metroidvania game. All the elements are here: exploring one massive gameworld bit by bit, gathering upgrades that enable you to reach places previously impassable, boss battles that move the story along, etc etc. As such, it’s at risk of being just another one of these games but Steamworld Dig 2 manages to still feel fresh thanks to two elements. The gameplay may be nothing new but it’s all right out of the genre’s very top drawer and the characters that fill this world are charming and engaging. Even if it doesn’t blow you away, Steamworld Dig 2 will leave you with a satisfied feeling – and sometimes, that is all you need.2018052113310800-5C4616A11E1A4BB797E99184F6827A79

Well worn territory
In recent years, I’ve been getting tired of games in the Metroidvania genre. They always seem decidedly retro and limited in scope, like they are easy to churn out and sell so developers don’t bother to be that original. I’m sure there are probably gems that I have missed along the way, but it’s been a while since one caught my imagination in the same way Steamworld Dig 2 did. The Switch is also a console upon which such games can and do thrive, so I decided they were a good combination to have a dip into. In the end, SD2 both confirmed and confounded my expectations. There are no mechanics or plot points or even gameplay elements that are outside of what you’d expect. Overall, it lacks ‘wow’ moments, other than one crazy sequence towards the end. I won’t give away anything through spoilers, but just for a few minutes the pace and danger of the game is suddenly hugely ramped up, only to fall back in line straight after. It’s a shame there are not more sections that change things up like this, but let’s get on to focus on why you should consider playing this game, despite the above!2018052117522900-5C4616A11E1A4BB797E99184F6827A79

Dorothy’s journey
You play as a little robot called Dorothy who is looking for an old friend called Rusty (I’ve not played the original Steamworld Dig but apparently Rusty was in that). This takes you to the town of El Machino and down, down, down into the mines there in search of him. Every move and action that Dorothy can do feels so smooth and effortless, whether it’s climbing, jumping or digging. The whole game is in 2D and is organised in small blocks, so you can dig left, right and down, but not directly diagonal. This is a great thing as it maintains a sense of order to the environment – it would quickly become messy and hard to manage or navigate if it could be destroyed more freely. Early on you’ll need to continually retrace your steps to return to the surface to gather more light and health but after a bit you’ll find a generous set of fast-travel points, which make doing so much quicker. You’ll want to return to El Machino regularly anyway as selling the resources you gather as you explore gets you some cash to spend on upgrades. Along with discovering new abilities throughout the world the balance between of exploration and upgrades is perfect. I never felt like I was breezing through challenges with an overpowered character but neither did I horribly struggle at any point. By the end Dorothy is, excuse the pun, an absolute machine – blasting through enemies, flying around and digging through the most solid of rock like it is sand.2018052417480100-5C4616A11E1A4BB797E99184F6827A79.jpg

Dorothy’s other journey
The rest of the game uses this solid gameplay as a base from which to build a fascinating and joyful experience. Dorothy‘s is joined on her journey by a strange ethereal character called Fen. Fen usually travels inside Dorothy, so you are not ever called to manage two characters, rather Fen serves to ensure that the game doesn’t feel lonely by occasionally popping out for a chat. It really surprised me how engaged I felt with these two. They do argue between each other but actually overall, they work well as a team in the face of the challenges, twists and opportunities they face. By the end I was fully on board with them and really wanted them to succeed. I also have to mention the music in Steamworld Dig 2 – it’s fantastic. Each environment has a different feel which fits beautifully with the visuals. It’s all fairly chilled out but still each one is very distinctive. Another reason I didn’t mind heading back to the surface regularly to sell my wares as I could hear the town’s music again! Lots of games have bits of great music but there aren’t many that are as filled with great music the whole time as this. All these slightly more intangible things combine to make SD2 a very pleasurable experience: Dorothy‘s determination – and your own – is well rewarded.2018052318180400-5C4616A11E1A4BB797E99184F6827A79

Conclusion
From the characters, to the music, to the animations, Steamworld Dig 2 exudes a simple charm that draws you into the journey of Dorothy and Fen. That it then backs this up with such solid gameplay makes it a game that can connect with most players – a gamer’s game if you will. Well worth your time.Review3

Click here to purchase the game on cart from Amazon.co.uk:
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Motion Without Sickness: Impressions of Wipeout in VR

I have never been a fan of the Wipeout series of games. I do like racing games, I like sci-fi racing games in fact, but somehow Wipeout has always felt a bit dull to me. Very fast, yes, but somehow a bit sterile – like a tech demo. Impressive maybe, but not interesting. The chance to try out such a game in VR, however, gave me a reason to pick up the Omega Collection. Would I feel the same about the series once I was fully immersed in the virtual world of high speeds and high stakes?WIPEOUT™ OMEGA COLLECTION_20180426132301

Well, yes. My feelings haven’t changed about Wipeout in general, but I think it is an interesting game from a motion sickness point of view. Firstly, I felt absolutely no motion sickness at all playing this game. As I noted in a previous VR-related post my first experience with racing games on the PSVR, Gran Turismo Sport, made me feel really, really sick. I assumed from that experience that there was something about racing games that didn’t agree with me. Well, Wipeout Omega Collection has put the myth to bed. Clearly, GTS in VR is just to be avoided in general. I wonder if in part this is because it’s more natural here to move your head into the turns. Here is a lap of one of the tracks:
https://player.vimeo.com/video/269808216

What is really interesting about Wipeout Omega Collection in VR though, is how many options there are for people who are suffering from motion sickness to try and ward it off and keep playing:

  • You can change whether the camera is locked to the pilot or to the ship or track
  • You can change how enclosed the cockpit is, so that your peripheral vision is more limited
  • You can change whether the ship moves about a little when crossing a boost pad or stays level

WIPEOUT™ OMEGA COLLECTION_20180426132502

All of this means you can really limit the VR-ness of it if it’s making you feel sick. Luckily, I was able to have all these settings turned to their most immersive options without any dramas at all. But I really like the idea that games could give players options to help. Motion sickness is the most-cited reason for not liking virtual reality, from what I can tell, and it seems to afflict different people in different ways. It would be fantastic if more games were able to give players a range of options, so that more people can play and get on board with VR gaming. Then maybe rather than a niche, VR could move towards the mainstream.WIPEOUT™ OMEGA COLLECTION_20180426200408

In the meantime, I’m done with Wipeout again – I might bust out Fast RMX on my Switch to get a little fix of high-octane racing! What about you – can you play VR games without motion sickness? And do you think such options are a viable for other VR titles? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to purchase the game on disc from Amazon.co.uk:

REVIEW: Super Mega Baseball 2

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC, PS4
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 32 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local and online

Underneath the cartoon graphics, the silly names and the irreverent humour, Super Mega Baseball 2 is a surprisingly realistic, deep and full-featured take on baseball. It makes little or no effort to be anything but fun on the surface and relies on the gameplay to keep you coming back. It’s a bet worth taking: Super Mega Baseball 2 is easy to pick up but hard to master, so every time you smoke one more home-run out of the ground it makes the preceding struggle totally worth it. Any fans of sports games should check it out.

Scratching the itch
The presentation of Super Mega Baseball 2 is decidedly on the indie side. Which is fine, it is an indie game, at a lower price than most sports titles. But this means you get no licensed teams, no team management aspects, no pages and pages of stats etc etc. If you can’t live without these more realistic aspects in a sports game, you should move on now. Those who can look past this though get rewarded by an amusing sense of humour to proceedings, which means that the lack of these typical sports game staples doesn’t not make the game lesser, merely different. Super Mega Baseball 2 is a great laugh as it steadfastly refuses to take itself too seriously at any point. Whether it’s the silly team names (for example the Nemesis, the Crocodons or my personal favourite: the Overdogs!), the exaggerated cartoon-esque player models or the little animations like players sneezing or throwing their bats upon striking out, Super Mega Baseball 2 makes sure you’re having far too much fun to notice the relative lack of features. Not that there is a lack of things to do. Single player has full-length (and customisable) season and elimination modes and the online multiplayer, called the Pennant Race, is excellently built and runs just as well as offline matches.

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Grand Slam
The gameplay backs up these things solidly. Given the presentation, Super Mega Baseball 2 is surprisingly faithful to it’s sport when it comes to the gameplay. I don’t have a particularly intimate knowledge of baseball, but everything I do know is fully built-in here. Let’s look at batting, pitching and fielding in turn. Batting is much as you would expect: you have various different kinds of swings but its always a matter of timing so the key is reading each different kind of ball out of the pitcher’s hand. Particularly as you raise the difficulty level, if you want to get home-runs then picking when to swing and nailing the timing is vital. The feedback the game gives you with your batter’s movements, as well as some on-screen tips, is great for helping you dial in your timing. The single best part of the game is when you’ve been getting your timing close-but-not-quite-right and have ended up with runners at every base and then Boom! – you nail one straight out of the ground for a Grand Slam. Huge joy. The pitching and fielding parts may, naturally, lack that exhilaration but the game is still great and a pleasure to play. Pitching ultimately comes down to trying to ruin the batter’s timing by mixing up your speeds and angles as much as possible. When you do get hit into the field one of the things I really liked was that you have a separate button out of X, Y, B and A for each of the bases on the diamond. It’s simple but very effective, much like everything in Super Mega Baseball 2. All of this is wrapped into a dynamic called ‘mojo’, which is similar to form or confidence ratings in other titles. Getting hit can cause your pitcher’s mojo to fall whereas smashing home-runs will causes your batters mojo to rise. These changes have an effect on the player’s stats and on their stamina. What’s really interesting is that they each carry their mojo over a period of time. If your starting pitcher gets hit a lot in one game, they will probably not be able to start the next one, or if a batter has a bad run you might need to drop them down the order whilst they pick up their confidence. It’s an interesting system that helps stop each match feeling the same.

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Strike
There are some parts that miss the mark, for me. Most obvious is the auto-catching in the field. Whether it’s you or the opposition that hits the ball in the air, once you know it is going to be caught, the game almost stops whilst the ball comes down. Some kind of catching meter, or at least a timed button-press, would be straight forward and make a huge difference. Although I was happy to have every catch for my players guaranteed, it is annoying when you have hit it high in the air and have to wait 2 or 3 seconds to inevitably be out. I also didn’t enjoy the difficulty settings. In Super Mega Baseball 2 it’s called ‘ego’, and you set it out of 99. I imagine most of the time small changes, between say 30 and 35, don’t make a significant difference but I did find that it’s clearly not that smooth. Playing with an ego level of 40 or less I would absolutely dominate the opposition, whereas as soon as I moved it up to 45, I would really struggle. It wasn’t necessarily the difference between winning and losing but it was certainly the difference between being out of sight by the end of the 1st inning or having the game still in the balance in the 9th. It’s a shame but not a showstopper – I ended up just playing online  primarily instead.

2018-06-11 05.55.18 1.jpg

Conclusion
For any baseball fan who doesn’t need all the real life players, stats etc, Super Mega Baseball 2 is a must play. For sports fans in general it is well worth a look as the gameplay is great and keeps you wanting more. With all of this you get a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek humour to keep the smile on your face! Good fun.Review3

REVIEW: The American Dream

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: PSVR
  • Also available on: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 4 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

The American Dream is an on-rails VR shooter with a huge dose of satire. In fact it would probably be more accurate to describe it as a satirical take on American gun culture, built into a video game. Whilst this does kind of work to begin with, unfortunately the game outstays it’s welcome and then completely jumps the shark on it’s way out. Somewhere in here there is an entertaining game, but you have to wade through too much superfluent stuff to find it.The American Dream_20180427132658

With guns, you can achieve anything
Within the game ‘The American Dream‘ is a theme park ride taking you through the life of an ‘American Patriot’ and showing you how guns are the solution for everything. Cleaning up stuff in a teenager’s room? Shoot it. Catching a football? Shoot it? Eating food at a restaurant? Shoot it. You get the picture! Mixed in with the gameplay is a commentary on the ride, given to you by a dog. That’s right. He encourages you to shoot everything and waxes lyrical about how wonderful the life of Americans is because they have guns. For example, apparently Americans have the best beer in the world: ‘expect maybe in Australia, but they banned guns there, so they can go get ******!‘ If this all sounds properly weird; it is. I wonder if it is clearer to those playing the game in the USA (let me know in the comments below!) but as an outsider I am not sure if the developer, Samurai Punk, is trying to make an actual political and social commentary here or if it is all purely for laughs. Either way, early on it is very funny but it starts to drag from about halfway. The basic point – ‘with guns, you can achieve anything‘ – has been well and truly made by then. But then, here in the UK we have also banned guns, so I guess we can ‘go get ********’ too.

Technically average
Unfortunately, the gameplay itself is also in the interesting-to-begin-with-but-quickly-gets-tired category. This is the third gun-toting game I’ve played on PSVR, after London Heist and Super Hot, and it is the worst mechanically. It lacks the substance of using the guns in London Heist but doesn’t replace it with anything like the style of Super Hot. The actual VR isn’t as good either: The American Dream doesn’t track your movements with quite the same accuracy which destroys the illusion that you  are actually holding these weapons in your hands. It’s certainly not terrible or unplayable but it’s not ideal.The American Dream_20180427165758

Left shark
After you’ve fought through the story and the gameplay to reach the final quarter of the game, The American Dream completely goes off the deep end. I will, as always here, avoid story spoilers (in case I’m not sufficiently putting you off playing it!) but let’s just say that the final part of the game is even weirder and unhinged than the rest. It’s a confusing and disappointing close to the game.The American Dream_20180427145353

Conclusion
Somewhere inside The American Dream is a decent two hour VR shooter with a sideline in satirical social commentary. Unfortunately, this brings with it average gameplay, repetitive and slow moving levels and a nonsensical ending. Look elsewhere, patriots!Review2

Click here to purchase to the game on disc from Amazon.co.uk:

RETROspective: Star Wars Racer Revenge

Why am I playing it?
I spotted Star Wars Racer Revenge on sale a while back on the PS Store and I remembered how cool the control scheme was. It is a PS2 Classic and back in the day it was a sequel to Star Wars Episode 1: Racer. I believe Racer was released around the time of the Phantom Menace and then Racer Revenge was released to coincide with Attack of the Clones. What made it stand out is that you could race by using the two analog sticks on the Dual Shock controller as throttles for the two engines on your Pod – thus being able to control speed and steering with the same method, just like the ‘real thing’. Push one stick or the other forward to turn, or push both forward to accelerate in a straight line, as I’m demonstrating here:20180423_204935.jpg

How well does it hold up technically?
No effort has been made with these PS2 Classics to update things like the graphics – this is not backwards compatibility like you get on Xbox One. As a result, this game just looks bad but I guess no worse than it did before. Controls are responsive and smooth once you are used to how unusual they are (or use more standard acceleration and steering inputs, but why would you?). Unfortunately it shows it’s age with some dodgy collision detection at times, particularly with some lo-res walls. Perhaps this was just what racing games were like in those days?!Star Wars™_ Racer Revenge™_20180423203609

Has it stood the test of time?
Not well. I would definitely consider Star Wars Racer Revenge poor if it came out now. Really all it has going for it is some Star Wars nostalgia and the interesting controls. Even things like the menus and everything built around the game is poor compared to what we have even on cheap indie games nowadays. Upgrading your pod racer is a very basic affair and even the very concept of the story – 8 years later Anakin comes back to pod racing to face a Sebulba looking for revenge – needs a lot more backing up than just the usual Star Wars scrolling yellow text at the beginning to make it believable.Star Wars™_ Racer Revenge™_20180423153915

Should people go back and check it out?
The control scheme is genuinely great: it’s unique, at least to my knowledge, and it would only work on a Playstation controller as the analog sticks are next to each other, not offset. But, where that was enough to make up for it’s shortcomings when it first came out, now it’s little more than a quaint interest-piece. I’d love it if a new racing game came out making good use of twin analog sticks like this but for now, this one is probably not worth your time.Star Wars™_ Racer Revenge™_20180423172740

REVIEW: State of Decay 2

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC
  • Time to get into: 2 Hour
  • Time to complete: 53 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, 4-player online co-op

State of Decay 2 is an absolute melting pot of ideas and things to do. From destroying zombies to collecting resources to assisting other survivors there is always a huge amount of things to do and a myriad of different ways to do them. Somehow it all holds together, each aspect balanced against the rest in perfect harmony; a harmony that you must look to replicate as you play, by achieving enough of your goals without ignoring any of them. State of Decay 2 is more than just a survival sim – it will take over your life as you work to first keep your community alive and to eventually flourish. And cave in a few zombie heads on the journey!

Decisions, decisions
The basic premise of State of Decay 2 is very simple: there has been a zombie outbreak that has ruined the world, how will you survive? From there, everything you do to keep your community going is really up to you. From the small moments; like focusing on ranged or melee weapons, all the way up to decisions about how you want to lead people; with an iron fist or in collaboration, Undead Labs has built this game to give you agency over how it plays out. Other than one issue (which I will come back to later) I really felt like everything I did, or did not do, in State of Decay 2 was having a genuine effect on the world around me. Equally though, it would be completely fine to just play your entire way through just doing what the game suggests to you. Like everything else here, there is a fine balance at work: your actions will have enough effect on your world to make you feel they have meaning but at the same time you are gently being led towards resolution. That is exactly what great open-world gameplay should be like.08-06-2018_22-02-42

A life less ordinary
The world in which you play out this survival-life is richly populated with diverse enemies, quests and problems. The combination of survival and exploration, of night and day, of attack and defence means State of Decay 2 becomes so many games in one. Yet again, it’s on you to keep these things in balance. Spend too much time exploring the world and your community will start to starve, but if you don’t explore at all you will still run out of resources pretty quickly. The same goes for night and day: night time requires your caution but play with that same caution in the day and you’re just burning daylight. Living life as a survivor in this zombie-infested world is a constant stream of tiny battles. Clear out a zombie infestation, search a house for resources, learn new skills, upgrade your base, help out another community of survivors, defend your base from a zombie attack, explore a new area, buy and sell with a wandering trader…. Moreover, all of this feels really good too. Smashing a melee weapon into a zombie’s skull is pleasingly brutal, gunplay is solid and getting around is easy enough once you’ve found some reliable vehicles. Even things that are a bit of a drag, like searching for resources or upgrading different facilities around your base feel right – like these are things that should take time in this fallen world. All of these individual aspects come together to create something much greater than it’s parts.08-06-2018_21-54-51

Zombie Factory
I mentioned above one thing that slightly spoiled the sense of actions having an effect on the game world. Quite simply: where do the zombies come from?! I destroyed about 4,000 zombies in my playthrough, despite hardly bothering to late on. And yet, there were always more. Of course, I get it that State of Decay 2 needs to populate itself with zombies to give your activities some risk, and I didn’t have a problem with it from a gameplay perspective. But there is no attempt made to explain where the constant supply comes from and so I was left with this one aspect where it didn’t seem to matter what I did – after all, not killing them did not increase their numbers, just the same as doing so did not decrease them.

It’s worth a quick note to mention glitches. I commented in my first impressions that I had seen none of the glitches that were all anyone could seem to talk about prior to State of Decay 2‘s release. The same can mostly be said after the entire 53 hours it took me to complete my first playthrough. I once got stuck in a box for about 2 minutes (see the character, Oscar, struggle and finally get out in the video above!) but that was it. Otherwise, I found that, if travelling quickly in a car, zombies did tend to appear out of no where in front of me a lot but this wasn’t ever a game-breaking issue. I have not had a chance to play online co-op, as none of my online friends have picked up this game, so perhaps the problems are more prevalent there, but don’t let this issue stop you playing State of Decay 2.08-06-2018_22-18-51

Conclusion
This is a brilliant game that manages to go far beyond it’s basic parts of survival, zombies and the like. State of Decay 2 gives you a life to live and the tools to live it out as you wish. There is always a long list of interesting and enjoyable things to do and achieve as you work to a satisfying conclusion for your community. For anyone who loves survival games, open-world adventures or even just flattening zombies by the thousand, I cannot recommend State of Decay 2 enough.

Review5

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Time For Tennis: AO International Tennis vs Tennis World Tour

Sneaking in ahead of Mario Tennis Aces are two games that take tennis a little more seriously. After a few years without a proper tennis game, AO International Tennis and Tennis World Tour have both appeared in 2018, so I thought it was a good chance to have them go head-to-head. After a good few hours with each it has become clear which one has the balle de match – if you’re looking for a tennis game, check out AO International Tennis.

My first, first impressions were actually the opposite! AO International Tennis (the AO is for Australian Open, for which is has the licence) first appears to be a much more arcade title than Tennis World Tour. AO plays much faster, has more exaggerated animations and puts more emphasis on the presentation around the actual gameplay. WT on the other hand is trying to be much more of a simulation. The gameplay is slower and asks you to be more precise. It has a more thorough tutorial as well that really steps you through the different shots and makes sure that you have got them down before letting you continue.

However, that is where the impressive parts of WT stop. Once you are in a game, issues start to rear their heads. Tennis World Tour‘s animations are pretty horrible to look at, particular in the transition from moving across court to playing a shot. Next, and perhaps consequently, there are regular issues with a disconnect between the shot you try to play and the one your player actually does. More than once I’ve been happily preparing to lash a top spin shot across court only for my player to suddenly lunge into a slice down the middle. The fact that this doesn’t happen in AO convinces me that it is the game rather than my bad play!!

So despite it’s more arcade leanings, AO International Tennis turns out to be the best option, regardless of that. It is certainly not easy or basic either. In fact, the power meter you have for playing shots is very clever indeed: rather than just the usual hold-the-button-longer-for-a-harder-shot/hold-it-too-long-and-miss mechanic, you’ll also miss your shots in AO International Tennis if you don’t hold the button for long enough. It does a great job of mimicking the actual timing required to play tennis shots. The animations quite happily keep up with the slightly quicker speed of the game and you’ll be sending down booming serves and forehands down the line in no time. Above all, AO International Tennis is fun, where Tennis World Tour is just a struggle. Add in the lack of online play (although a patch is apparently forthcoming) in WT and AO has the match sown up. Game, set, match: AO International Tennis.

What about you? Are you looking to play a tennis game this year? And if you are, is it just all about Mario Tennis Aces?! Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to purchase Tennis World Tour for PS4 from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase AO International Tennis for PS4 from Amazon.co.uk: