Archive for February, 2013

Review: Unit 13

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Unit 13Portable systems are suitable for many game types and genres, the best of which have been designed with the features of their host platform in mind. Historically, cover based shooters would not have fallen under that umbrella, given the lack of a viable control scheme. The PlayStation Vita, with its dual analog stick setup, makes that barrier a moot point, and Zipper Interactive have aimed to shore up that gap with Unit 13, a title that offers all of what its bigger brothers can do, but aimed squarely at the portable market.

Unit 13 is well aware of its target audience, and does an admirable job catering to the strengths of it’s intended platform by virtue of the structure of its campaign. The main mode is split into 36 different missions, each with their own objectives. These come in four flavours. “Direct Action” missions allow goals to be approached in whatever manner best fits the situation. “Covert” missions task players with completing objectives without being spotted – tripping an alarm or otherwise alerting the enemy results in a mission failure. “Deadline” puts players in a race against time to complete their objectives. And the final type, “Elite”, removes automatic health regeneration and checkpoints, meaning a tactical approach is an absolute must.

“Well aware of its target audience”As well as the above categorisations, each mission also states a difficulty rating and length. This allows players to pick and choose missions catering to their current situation whether looking for a quick five minute blast or a longer, more involved play session – a definite plus on a mobile platform. Once completed, your performance is ranked based on a number of criteria and a final score assigned. The integrated leaderboards for each mission easily let you compare scores with friends, adding an element of competition into the mix. Each of these missions can also be played dynamically, randomising the objectives and enemy placements on the levels and adding even more replayability beyond seeking a better mission score.

Unit 13 ScreenAs well as the aforementioned solo mode, Unit 13 offers online co-op play, allowing you and a buddy to tackle those same missions together. However, a friend with a copy of the game is almost a necessity as at the time of writing the community seems sparsely populated and random matches are few and far between. HVT, or High Value Targets, are unlocked by achieving a certain number of stars in the solo missions. Playing out as an assassination, each of the nine on offer task the player with killing an essential cog in the terrorist machine. Rounding out the modes on offer are the Daily Challenges. Each day, a new assignment is available for 24 hours and in much the same way as the single player campaign, set certain objectives that need to be completed. There’s little doubt that as a package, Unit 13 offers a plethora of content.

Thankfully, that content is backed up by a very capable engine. Zipper Interactive have clearly drawn on their experience developing the SOCOM franchise whilst working on Unit 13. The game plays as well as any other third person shooters, serving as proof that the genre is technically viable on the PlayStation Vita. The shooting is solid with a real weight behind each of the weapons. The cover mechanic can be a little hit an miss on occasion, but functions well for the most part. Zipper have also cleverly implemented touchscreen controls which are subtle and never feel out of place or forced.

Read the rest on Thunderbolt >>

Review: Alien Breed

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Alien BreedAfter a six month tour of duty of the relatively quiet Outer Spiral arm, Johnson and Stone were looking forward to nothing more than a well earned break. That was when the command came through – outpost ISRC-4, in orbit over Gianor, had gone dark and needed to be investigated. But as they docked the IPCC Miraculous to the space station, an eerie silence was evident. Everything was not as it seemed…

Originally released on the Amiga in 1991, Alien Breed is held in high regard by many gamers. The special edition remained in UK charts for over a year and the franchise has seen iterations on many generations of consoles, including the Xbox 360. Having seen success with a port on the iOS store and PS Mobile in recent years, Team 17 has seen fit to release the definitive version for PlayStation Vita.

“Perfectly suited to gaming on the go”The core gameplay of the original remains intact in this iteration. The game is viewed from a top down perspective and Johnson and Stone must navigate increasingly labyrinthine levels to complete objectives, which in most cases is to reach a designated room on the map. Controls are simplistic – the left stick is assigned to movement, and the right designated to directionality of fire. Aliens will block your every path but you have access to a veritable arsenal to obliterate the extraterrestrial horde. Once the objective is complete, the deck is set to self destruct and a countdown begins, signaling a dash back to the spawn point before the time expires. It’s a simple but effective mechanic to create a sense of tension and haste in the final moments of a level.

Alien Breed ScreenshotPickups are scattered throughout each environment. Bonus orbs increase your overall score, keycards open locked doors and medipacs and magazines replenish your health and ammunition respectively. Credits make up the remainder of the collectibles and can be used in the in-game shop. Accessible from the pause menu, the shop provides the ability to purchase all manner of items from extra lives and the aforementioned keycards to, more importantly, weapon upgrades. Initially, your character is only equipped with a standard automatic weapon but flamethrowers, missile launchers and other assorted tools of destruction can be purchased, with each having vastly different ranges and effects.

Alien Breed is perfectly suited to gaming on the go. Each environment will take only a few moments to complete but will encourage repeat play sessions. Every level has its own leaderboard, allowing friends to compare scores and vie for the top spot. The collectibles in each map also carry through to subsequent outings, so it’s almost encouraged to farm credits to unlock new weapons. Co-op is also an option in each level, with the Vita supporting both Ad-hoc and wireless multiplayer. The game is comprised of thirty levels, including those from the original and special editions, plus all new content created for the Vita. Considering the title is also cross-buy with the PS3 version, that’s a lot of content on offer for minimal investment.

Read the rest on Thunderbolt >>

Introducing Nessa

Friday, February 8th, 2013

We got a doggie! It’s been something myself and Jess have known would happen since we moved house – I literally didn’t have a choice in the matter, a dog would be part of our family, but I was always on board with the idea. This week, Nessa entered our lives. Jess had seen quite a bit of Nessa (then called Candi), a black Labrador Retriever, in her volunteer work, and had already fallen in love. I’d seen pictures of her even before we considered adopting. Once we’d set our minds on a puppy, Nessa was the only one.

Nessa

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a puppy, and I still remember joys of puppy training and the endless “presents” we woke up to each morning, but aside from one or two minor gripes, Nessa has been an absolute star. Surprisingly, she took immediately to house training (her previous owners must have done some work on that), and every day she is seeing improvements in her lead walking and command training. She gets a little over excited around new people and other dogs, but Jess is constantly working on those point. I swear she has the patience of a saint and definitely a lot more than me.

We’re also taking a slow approach in introducing Nessa to Farnsworth. All of their contact so far has been brief, controlled interactions. It’s progressing as well as can be expected after five days, but Nessa’s “enthusiasm can sometimes makes kitty nervous, so it’s something we need to continuously work on.

Review: Skulls of the Shogun

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Skulls of the ShogunAs the last of his enemies lay dying at his feet, General Akamoto stands triumphant on the battlefield. Set to be proclaimed Shogun of all feudal Japan, Akamoto’s celebration is cut short as a mysterious figure stabs him in the back, sending him on his way to the Shores of the Dead. But even here, he finds nothing but treachery, as another warrior is impersonating him and attempting to keep him at bay. Betrayed and robbed of his destiny, the general and his band of ragtag warriors set out to carve bloody vengeance in the afterlife, and restore the great general to his rightful position.

It is here, on the Shores of the Dead, where Skulls of the Shogun begins. Vengeance is carried out in the form of a turn based strategy title. During each round of battle, Akamoto may activate and order up to five of the units under his command to move and attack the enemy forces. They come in three flavours: Infantry units are your bread and butter front line troops. They have above average defence which allows them to absorb more damage. Your Cavalry forces have the widest range of movement, and thus are able to cover more ground, whilst only having average attack and defence points. Finally, your Archers can hold back and kill enemy troops from afar, boasting the strongest attacking skills of your entire army. This is offset by their abysmal defensive rating; these guys cannot attack when things get up close and personal, and will not withstand many blows. As general, Akamoto can get involved as well, and boasts the ability to make two actions versus the standard unit’s one. However, if he should fall in battle, the army is defeated.

“Well balanced”Whilst the core of the game is kept intentionally streamlined, Skulls of the Shogun does well to consistently introduce new elements as progression is made. As each enemy is defeated, your troops can devour their fallen skulls. Each one consumed increases the toughness of your unit, and eating three causes your unit to transform into their demon form, a super powered version of the original, gaining an extra attack each activation. Rice paddies and shrines are also strewn throughout the battlefield, which can be captured by “haunting” them successfully for one complete turn. The former give you access to rice, which acts as the games currency and allow you to summon new common units to the battlefield. Capturing a shrine, however, lets you command one of three monks; Fox Monk acts as your army’s healer, Salamander Monk spews fire and lightning from a distance, whereas Crow Monk is the trickiest of the three, using magic to steal rice and move enemies around the terrain with his “Gust” ability.

Skulls of the ShogunAll of the above combine to make up an extremely well balanced and surprisingly deep, strategic affair. Don’t let the game’s heavily stylised graphics fool you; beneath the colourful exterior beats an extremely tactical heart. Mistakes are severely punished, and each encounter requires a delicate balancing act. Knowing when to push on and attack a particularly troublesome unit, and when to hold back and use a turn to capture a shrine or paddy, or to eat that one remaining skull, are the keys to success. Given that only five troops can be activated and act each turn, prioritising threats and evaluating where resources are required is vital. The positioning of the individual units is also of the utmost importance. Any that dare to traverse too close to a cliff or river make for easy prey, as they can be knocked off for a simple kill. Aligned units benefit from a greater resilience to knockbacks, so synchronising their movements across any narrow ravines or bridges is crucial to avoid the big drop.

Read the rest on Thunderbolt >>

Dispelling the notion of tacked on multiplayer

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve taken up a position at Thunderbolt Games. I’ll be discussing the gaming world, as well as reviewing titles for them when the chance arises. To that end, these will be reproduced in part here. Presenting my first Thunderbolt piece, discussing the fallacies of tacked on multiplayer


Tacked on Multiplayer

The current generation of consoles have introduced many features which we gamers now take for granted – HD graphics and achievements immediately spring to mind – but by far the feature that has shaped the course and direction of the video games industry more than any other is the introduction of out-of-the-box online play. Previously regarded as a bastion of those with high end PCs and a working knowledge of network protocols, the advent of Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, as well as the spread of broadband infrastructure, has lead to more than ever venturing online than ever before, vanquishing all in their path, from Bangkok to Berlin.

With this change in focus comes the notion of “tacked on multiplayer”: a traditionally single player experience being complimented by a non-canon or superfluous multiplayer experience, very much to the detriment of the product as a whole. Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer announcement was met with vitriolic commentary, and there were audible sighs of relief around the world at the announcement that Bioshock Infinite’s multiplayer component was being left on the cutting room floor, showing the clear disdain that some hold against this notion. But they couldn’t be more wrong.

Case in point: the Assassin’s Creed series. When the announcement was made that Brotherhood, the continuation of the story of Ezio Auditore, would also come bundled with an online mode, reactions ranged from skepticism to outrage. It was labelled by many as a dilution of the experience, and one that would take away from the quality of the story. At the time, I was one of the many adding my weight behind that notion, reasoning that a multiplayer addition would take time away from the development of the core elements that made the first entries in the series so enjoyable. When Brotherhood arrived, I tried out the multiplayer, if only to satisfy my curiosity and prove myself correct. It left me eating humble pie, as the tense, tactical versus matches proved to be one of the highlights of the series to date, and has continued to grow and become more polished and enhanced in each successive release. More importantly, it hasn’t compromised the integrity of the single player experience, and can safely be ignored by those who choose to do so.

Those that espouse the belief that the addition of multiplayer will lead to the downfall of the series commonly site a redistribution of development resources as a justifiable concern; the sacrifice of hundreds of man-hours on a “ticking the boxes” exercise to satisfy the tropes of what comprises a AAA game in today’s ever changing landscape. Such a time consuming and effort expending process has to effect the quality of the work, no? Considering that the development of any additional content is generally handled by a secondary studio or team, and the meticulous budgeting and planning that goes into game development, it’s not too much of a stretch to conclude that adequate resources and funding have been allocated to all components.

Read the rest on Thunderbolt >>