Review: The Fall

“Artificial Lifeform. State your primary function.”
Dark and ominous, The Fall is an interactive exercise in dystopian thriller well worth a single playthrough.

 

The mark of a good dystopian story is one that leaves an unsettling aftertaste upon completion. With Over The Moon’s flagship game The Fall comes a thematic exploration of artificial intelligence which produces multiple disturbing revelations, a testament to ingenious writing and stylistic delivery employed by the game developers.

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Released in May last year, this puzzle platformer follows the the suit’s A.I., A.R.I.D., as she traverses an unknown robotics facility to seek aid for her incapacitated wearer, whom having fallen onto the planet from orbit has sustained major physical trauma and is unconscious.

The sheer convenience of having an abandoned robotics facility on the planet points to a greater mystery surrounding the main character’s initial purpose and the nature of the facility itself. Questions deliberately left unanswered by the game, this larger unknown compounds the already-creepy story that’s ongoing.

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The Fall, literally.

A.R.I.D. possesses three protocols in her programming to govern her autonomous behavior in absence of her pilot, something reminiscent of Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, in which:

1. She must not mispresent reality. (aka lie.)
2. She must be obedient
3. She must protect her pilot.

Similar to Asimov’s rules,  a paradox is presented: if 3 is in jeopardy and the only way to ensure pilot survival would be to lie, then principle 1 shouldn’t apply. In lying to fulfill 3, rule 2 is both broken and unbroken. That’s where the tension lies and where everything starts to fray – and this disorientation is exactly what The Fall’s story expands on and does to the player’s perception to good effect.

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Good, bad or evil has no place in The Fall, only relevance, function and compliance. That’s the cold reality of the machine and you are thrust right into the thick of it.

In addition, conversations among the characters reveal a disturbing assessment of what has happened within the facility, subtly explaining the overall human absence within the game’s environment.

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Subtly.

Visually, the Fall is a game designed to be unnerving. Constantly set against a dark backdrop with heavy emphases on shadows and dim lighting, the atmosphere is eerily lifeless and grim. Players of the popular indie game Limbo will find themselves completely at home with this visual style.

One thing that truly stands out is the quality sound design. The good voice acting behind the characters, particularly the Caretaker antagonist – also an A.I. – adds a menacing edge to the environment which A.R.I.D. must navigate. Coupled with the creepy ambient music playing in the background, The Fall truly achieves its desired effect: in giving the chills.

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Bold, striking colours against a dim backdrop give a sense of mechanical dread.

On gameplay, to get from one level to another, players must overcome obstacles by applying sharp observational skills and logic. And I reiterate: sharp. Items lying around often serve a specific purpose in crafting solutions, so leaving a single stone unturned could spell an hour of confusion and frustration in attempting to retrace your steps.

While sufficiently complex to warrant a challenge, the puzzles can feel like a drag towards the mid-game, becoming more of a hindrance with minimal contribution to plot progression:

Twice, I resorted to reading a guide on the community pages to make clear of an essential item or step that I missed. This was not because the game was too challenging, but that the task at hand seemed bland and purposeless.

Furthermore, some of the steps required are not entirely intuitive, and may result in substantial head-scratching in the process – as was my experience.

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The Fall, like its main character, almost overstays its welcome. Almost.

While the less-than-stellar gameplay experience did leave me with mixed feelings about the game, it was fortunate that the story concluded not long after – and boy, was it a phenomenal ending of M. Night Shyamalan proportions. (Well, when he does a good movie of course)

As such, The Fall’s 4-5 hours long game time is enough to sustain players’ interest, and short enough to avoid overstaying its welcome.

B+

This game is worth a playthrough just for its good story, I recommend getting it on sale.

 

Revealed: Fallout 4 Announced!

While its development has long been assumed, Bethesda Studios confirms rumors with the release of Fallout 4’s trailer. Yup, prepare your wallets for late 2015, ladies and gentlemen.

 

And yup, it’s definitely set in Boston, Massachusetts or “The Commonwealth” as is known within the game’s post-apocalyptic setting. Now, without further ado, the much-anticipated reveal:

“War…war never changes.” Whenever that tagline rings, you know that’s authentic Fallout material talking. In Fallout 4, players will take on the role of a vault dweller (this title is subject to change) from Vault 111 in the Commonwealth.

The origins of the protagonist are not clear, but it seems that the character has seen the pre-war years prior to living in (and exiting) the vault, a step away from the usual formula for the past few protagonists.

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What quirks will Vault-Tec’s Vault 111 have?

With the Fallout 4 official trailer, one can see that the greenish and orange-ish hues from Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas have been completely done away with, replaced with a livelier, full-colored palette. A possible sore point for some, who see it as iconic of the bleak nature set by the series, I for one welcome this refreshing change to Fallout’s visual appeal.

A few prominent landmarks are also witnessed as the trailer progresses, with what looks like the Paul Revere statue and the Red Sox Stadium appearing mid-way, a huge nod to the New England setting anticipated in prior discussions.

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Note the baseball player statue in the background, centre-right.

The prominent Brotherhood of Steel and Enclave factions are likely to make a reappearance, as demonstrated by the display of power-armored troop patrols in the wasteland and the frequent feature of Vertibird aircraft, the transport of choice for both factions.

While not obvious in the video, there is also a strong possibility that the enigmatic Institute faction will be a prominent part of the story. The post-apocalyptic remnant of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one can only wonder what technological marvels and inventions they’ll bring to the table in Fallout 4.

Maybe that’s why we see an unprecedented tour-de-force of technology and vehicles in the trailer – aspects that were relatively sparse in the Capital and Mojave Wastelands of the earlier titles. Perhaps all the vehicles are the Institute’s after all. Who knows?

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The statue of Paul Revere, situated at the North End district of Boston present-day. A curious blimp appears above the location, possibly of Enclave or Institute origin.

Lastly, the fresh take on the Fallout theme song which plays mid-trailer is phenomenal. I can’t help but feel that this game will emerge as one beautiful, wholesome package. It gives me a warm feeling inside when the orchestral piece starts at 1:31. Absolutely stunning.

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Save for a beautiful graphical overhaul and a fresh location, Fallout 4’s official trailer tugs players’ nostalgic strings while not revealing too much about the upcoming game.

That being said, more details will surface as the weeks go by, particularly with the annual E3 conference around the corner – a high profile event where the major players in the game industry step forth and unveil their latest triple-A projects.

Creators of the legendary Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises, Bethesda Studios is another developer which prides itself on consistent performance in producing quality titles. With several industry awards under its belt, I can say with much confidence that things are looking up with Fallout 4 and 2015 in general.

All in all, there’s only two words to describe my feelings having seen both XCOM 2 and Fallout 4’s reveals:

DOUBLE STOKED.

Revealed: XCOM 2 Announced!

The alien-buttkicking business just got a stimulus package. Let’s unpack the possible features that could be in the upcoming sequel, shall we?

 

Earlier today, IGN released a trailer revealing a sequel to Firaxis Games’ hit title XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within. Slated for release this coming November, the action-packed XCOM 2 trailer seems to reveal a number of interesting new features alongside familiar ones, gameplay and story-wise.

It becomes immediately clear that a major part of Earth has fallen to the invading aliens from the first game, who have set up a totalitarian state to govern the occupied post-‘unification’.

Simultaneously, Earth’s XCOM forces have gone into hiding and strike using guerrilla tactics, operating from a mobile air base where the game’s iconic Skyranger troop-transport is housed and dispatched from.

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Hello, beautiful.
  • 1:25 displays a possible plot element: judging from the banner behind the snake-person, it is possible that EXALT is in collaboration with alien forces in the occupation of Earth.
  • For newcomers to the series, EXALT is a rival organization against XCOM which seeks to assimilate alien technology for their own private gain (aka world domination aka illuminati). This could be the reason behind the significant human presence among the alien forces’ ranks in the video.
(From the first game) Note the similar elements between the EXALT logo and the banner above.
  • Also, the snake-person herself (itself?) is worthy of note. While an obvious nod to the inclusion of a new enemy within the game, this new element could arguably be of non-alien origin. Seeing the frequent display of the DNA helix on the city screens, it could be a hint to human genetic manipulation to bolster EXALT’s ranks.

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  • Plot aside, XCOM 2 looks to be a familiar game to players of Enemy Unkown or Enemy Within: XCOM soldiers come in heavy, assault, support and sniper varieties, continue to wear their national flag on their signature chunky green armor, and work in squads of four and above. Also a characteristic feature of the franchise, taking cover will remain key to keeping your soldiers alive, as emphasized between 1:28-1:32.
  • Familiar with an added boost, XCOM 2’s tactical combat will be upgraded with a new array of tools for use in the field. Drones, grenade launchers and even melee weapons are likely additions to the XCOM arsenal, allowing for more explosive, cutting-edge solutions to Earth’s alien infestation problem.
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Clearly not a fan of puns.

Given Firaxis’ track record of releasing quality games such as Sid Meier’s Civilization V and the first XCOMEnemy Unknown, it is likely that its current project will meet the expectations laid out in today’s reveal.  

As such, this is one game that you’d want to watch closely when the winter holiday approaches this year. I’m pretty stoked myself!

Review: Risk of Rain

“Beautifully mysterious atmosphere. Distinct 8-bit art style with stellar instrumental soundtrack. Very replayable and great fun, an intriguing game through and through.”

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Hopoo Games’ flagship project Risk of Rain is a 2D platform shooter with a very interesting difficulty mechanic: the difficulty constantly ramps up as you play. (Fun Fact: Hopoo Games is two-man operation, both of them students from the University of Washington)

The game starts with the player’s character surviving a crash-landing on a mysterious alien planet, who then emerges from an escape pod and searches for a means to get off-world.

  • The premise is straightforward. 1. Find the teleporter. 2. Remove hostile native life in your way. 3. Activate teleporter 4. Slay gigantic boss(es) and remove even more hostile native life. 5. Teleport and repeat.
  • Yet, the timed difficulty system creates an interesting dilemma for the player: decide between gathering essential power-boosting items before moving on, or teleport immediately to avoid facing stronger enemies in the early levels.
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Even killing aliens requires professional time management. Note the timer above.
  • Gameplay is well put-together with boss fights interesting and varied. Among them, you get to face titanic jellyfish, flaming serpents and towering stone-men, each with their own style of attack and strategy to defeat.
  • Although unforgiving and random in outlook, the game is well-balanced and never too easy or too difficult, with success mostly dependent on the player’s initiative during intense moments. In short, you die because you screwed up.
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Ouch.
  • Multiple playthroughs hardly get stale. Items, locations and their respective layouts change with each game, not to mention the variety of unlockable characters in store for the player.
  • There are also game-changing artifacts that can be found and activated to alter the entire experience, constantly keeping the game fresh. One of them even lets you choose the nature of the items you pick up, allowing for a more controlled character build.
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Many unlockable characters; many items; many rule-changing artifacts; many sleepless nights.
  • In the graphics department, the game’s 8-bit visual style is quite detailed and pleasant to look at, with animations well-designed. Running this game shouldn’t be an issue for most. Do note, however, that this game may strain lower-end PCs when there are many enemies on-screen.
  • One cannot go on relating the Risk of Rain experience without talking about its amazing soundtrack. Chris Christodoulou’s progressive compositions are spot-on in delivering the very feel the game’s creators strive to achieve: mystery, subtlety, and majesty.
  • Below is a sample piece which demonstrates Christodoulou’s artistry – never too in-your-face and laced with sophisticated undertones, it frames the canvas that is the game and does it perfectly.
  • Defamiliariziation is a potent tool employed in Risk of Rain’s story: the main character’s smallness is constantly contrasted with the vast landscape and the aliens, elevating the sense of strangeness within the story’s environment.
  • An intriguing feature is the ambiguity of the player’s protagonist role. The fact that mundane items imbue extraordinary powers, combined with the peculiar names of the higher difficulty tiers seem to reflect the hero’s gradual descent into insanity.
  • Moreover, the endings leave a haunting tone which hint at something morally amiss about the player’s actions. This is coupled with the personal logs you collect as you play, which reveal the aliens to be less hostile than earlier perceived.
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And so he returned home, built a cosy cottage by the lake and lived happily ever with his…oh wait.
  • Beneath Risk of Rain’s simple appearance lies a tastefully complex and masterfully subtle theme. At SG$10.50, the game punches way above its weight and is a deserving purchase that should be in your game library.

That being said,

  •  Risk of Rain can be an occasional visual mess when the effects of your items stack. When thrust into a horde of enemies with their very own animations playing, locating the main character can become quite an ordeal for some.
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Like, what’s going on man? Also, “HAHAHAHA” difficulty.
  • Nonetheless, it is the only issue I’ve encountered with the game over the past year, being a mild annoyance which hardly compromises gameplay.

Overall, Risk of Rain nets a quality A- for the phenomenal experience it delivers.
There is a surprising literary depth to this game which I cannot describe, and that’s saying something about this wondrous package of pixelated action.

(Oh, and there’s co-operative multiplayer too if you’re not excited yet)

Review: Nidhogg

“Simple 8-bit design. Fun & chaotic multiplayer. Great as a group activity with laughter guaranteed. Unfortunately, not value for money.”

Messhof’s latest indie title: Nidhogg is a digital expression of the innate human instinct to take pointy things and stick them into someone else’s gut. The premise of the game is hilariously simple: stab/brawl/sprint your way to the other side of the map and get eaten by a large worm as a reward.

Yes, it’s that ridiculous.
  • Yet, this straightforward game design brings to the table an adrenaline-pumping multiplayer experience with its rapid pace and tense back-and-forth action. Clashes between players often end in spectacular splatters of LSD-esque, trippy-coloured blood across the arena, with plenty of laughter in the process.
A clearly blood-marinated castle floor, courtesy of our two dueling gentlemen.
  • Clearly a perfect way to settle a score with a friends or family members, Nidhogg’s major downside is its hefty SG$15.00 price tag and minimal content. While stabbing your friend in 8-bit graphics is pretty fun, the novelty soon wears off as the “stab and run” formula becomes repetitive.
  • A problem coupled by the meagre 4 arenas the game has to offer, Nidhogg is definitely not bang-for-your-buck with its low production value and basic premise. Overall, Nidhogg is a game best suited for local multiplayer, and should be purchased only when it’s on sale.

Nidhogg gets an average B score for its poor price-content balance.
This costly casual game is perfect for breaking the ice at social gatherings, nothing more.

Review: Apotheon

“Atmospheric. Captivating Ancient Greek theme. Great attention to detail. Slightly flimsy controls yet most importantly, fun.”

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Alientrap Games’ Apotheon is an immersive indie 2D platformer with a uniquely beautiful ancient greek pottery aesthetic. The story follows Nikandreos – a champion of humanity – who rises up against the Greek Gods to steal their powers and salvage the fate of his people. As Nikandreos, you will scale Mount Olympus and challenge the Gods in their respective realms.

  • Apotheon’s gameplay is rather solid, with plenty of interesting melee and ranged weaponry (many of which historically-accurate) to choose from, making for healthy variation in playing style. Certain quests shake up the usual “run-stab-block-repeat-etc.” routine by posing puzzles for you to solve, keeping the game lively and interesting as you move along.
  • Great attention to detail is also displayed in level and character design, with most in-game locations having a different feel, as well as plentiful variation in NPCs’ and enemies’ appearances.
Getting mugged by skeletons should be the least of your worries when exploring the cold depths of Hades.
  • The music accompanies the game well and changes according to the environment you explore. Slow, gloomy music plays during your foray into the dark underworld while glorious tunes bellow as you storm a fort for example, creating an amazing atmospheric experience. The lyre pieces, in particular, give the game an elegant touch.
  • The storyline is average with a cliché god-usurper plot (and we all know how it always ends). Nevertheless, the plot is well-presented and executed tastefully.
  • Game length is pretty substantial, well worth its price tag.
  • A healthy level of appearance customization is also available for the hero, from leather caps to wolf pelts to the iconic Corinthian helmet, you get to look as ancient a Greek as you desire.
Xiphos in hand and a funky sea-themed mythical helmet to boot.
Xiphos in hand and a funky sea-themed mythical helmet to boot. Note the collection of sharp, pointy, hurty things on the left.
  • However, combat is slightly flimsy as attacks are completely mouse-dependent and can be annoyingly difficult to control when Nikandreos is surrounded by enemies, which happens fairly often.
  • While there is a healthy balance between range and melee options in the overall combat system, the variety of actions available within melee combat is lacking, being limited to a simple stab or an upwards/overhead swing.
  • Finally, the amount of armor pieces available for Nikandreos pales in comparison to the wide range possessed by the NPCs, a pity considering the amazing art style which girds the game.
I mean…look at this! Barring the mythical creature stuff, where’d most of these go? Damned skeletons, I tell ya.

Overall, Apotheon is a good game with a quality composition of 55% style 45% gameplay. Its form similar to the pottery art it emulates: carefully crafted and artistically flavorful. Now, before I run out of adjectives to use in this review, let me conclude by saying that:

Apotheon gets a solid B+ for its good quality.
A definite must-try if you dig its aesthetic and love classical history; a worth-trying if you’re looking to play a fresh platformer.