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Dishonored: Death Of The Outsider Review

Game Spot Reviews - Mon, 09/18/2017 - 19:20

Tying up loose ends in a series focused on political intrigue and all things metaphysical can't be easy. In Dishonored: Death Of The Outsider--a stand-alone game capping off the events of Dishonored 2--it covers the exploits of various side-characters on a more personal quest, that doesn't overstay its welcome. Arkane Studios continues its tradition of coming up with an incredibly inventive and cunning game about elusive assassins making their mark on the world around them, while choosing where and when to make the tough choices.

Set several months after Dishonored 2, Emily Kaldwin and Corvo Attano have since left the isle of Karnaca, leaving Billie Lurk to return to her old ways to track down her former mentor Daud. Pulling from her skills working under the master assassin, they form a plan to confront The Outsider, a deity of the Void realm and instigator of events throughout the series. Billie Lurk will use her newfound powers to sneak, loot, and track down key targets to find a way to eliminate the demigod once and for all.

Much like the previous games, Death Of The Outsider makes effective use of large, open levels. With each city block holding a number of side-opportunities and events, there is plenty to learn and uncover during your excursions. Billie's story aims to round out the narrative presented in both Dishonored games, but the general flow is somewhat lacking. While starting strong, the story eventually runs out of steam, with its final missions falling a bit flat. With that said, there are many details packed in for Dishonored fans, revealing important notes that flesh out the events since the last game.

Billie's approach is a bit different compared to the exploits of Corvo, Emily, and Daud. With no mark bestowed from the Outsider, she is free from the Demigod's watchful gaze, and isn't judged by her overall actions throughout the story. This helps to set the tone for what players can expect in Death Of The Outsider. With the lack of the Chaos System from previous games, the moral ambiguity of the story matches the gameplay, allowing her to go about missions in different and inventive ways--often going for a more improvised style that blends lethal and non-lethal moves.

I tend to be more stealth focused when playing a stealth-action games, and dread the moments when having to mash the reload save key to avoid dealing with lost resources and the bloody mess I left behind. In this game, getting caught isn't as punishing, allowing you to recover from a messy job. With your overall performance graded after each mission--judging times detected, hostiles killed, and items found--you'll be able to focus more on being an effective assassin, without the added pressure of an overarching meta system keeping you in-check.

With gear including lethal and non-lethal darts and mines, grenades, and a stealthy sword--including powers that assist with traversal and the manipulation of your enemies--how you go about your mission is up to you. As an immersive sim, each character and object in the game space can be manipulated, opening up some rather interesting gameplay opportunities--like baiting enemies with thrown bottles to walk into traps, or some more creative options like using the Semblance power to mimic the appearance of others to get the jump on targets.

In a lot of ways, this stand-alone release's more relaxed style does more to compliment the series' immersive sim design compared to its predecessors.

Billie Lurk's overall repertoire of skills are much more lean compared to the other characters. Though Corvo and Emily had a sizable pool of powers, the Captain of the Dreadful Wale has just three, along with a side ability to Rat Whisper--where she can hear the thoughts of nearby rodents to learn clues and tidbits about the characters in the area. With no mark, Billie's powers work on recharging mana, a more than welcome addition that gets rid of mana potions. Despite the smaller pool of powers, she can still acquire and craft a set of Bone Charms to amplify her various skills and attributes.

Focusing on the key areas of traversal, recon, and subterfuge--her powers cover the gamut of what players will need throughout their missions. One power in particular named Foresight, allows Billie to project herself as a spectre to scout and mark targets. This skill is a standout, proving its usefulness time and again when locating Bone Charms and key items. However, the fact that there is only three powers can make the overall gameplay potential feel limited compared to previous games. While creative players can certainly make the best of it, it was disappointing to see that these were all you get. However, completing the game once will unlock the Original Game + mode, replacing Billie's original powers with Blink, Domino, and Dark Vision from Dishonored 2--bringing back a feeling of familiarity.

Dishonored's AI systems are as sharp as ever, and will require some planning to get through unscathed--but going in at full force isn't discouraged if that's your thing. With the more lax gameplay systems on display, there's much more incentive to experiment with the tools at your disposal. During one segment, I used Foresight to mark several targets before using a combination of electric mines and the Disperse teleport ability to plant traps during their patrol routes, disabling several guards within seconds as I slipped away with valuable loot.

Only taking about 7 hours to clear on the normal setting, there are several missions that beg for a revisit, such as the mission to infiltrate Karnaca's Bank--resulting in one of the series' most finely tuned levels. One feature brought in to add more variety are the new contracts found in the Black Market, where you can also buy items and upgrade your gear. Billie can take on a selection of side-jobs from the citizens in Karnaca, ranging from the bizarre, such as killing an annoying mime and making it look like an accident, to the more morbid--like getting revenge on a sadistic doctor who experiments on his patients.

Surprisingly, Death Of The Outsider channels much more of the spirit of classic stealth-action games like the original Thief. Giving room to experiment and prod aspects of the environment to see what works, without too many distractions from the story. Along with a custom game mode, allowing you to tune the game's AI, fail-states, and add in other odd and challenging options like Ironman Mode--Death of the Outsider gives you a number of ways to define the type of stealth-action game you want to play. In a lot of ways, this stand-alone release's more relaxed style does more to compliment the series' immersive sim design compared to its predecessors.

Dishonored: Death Of The Outsider is a solid, inventive, yet somewhat subdued capper to the stories from the previous Dishonored games. While the smaller scope can be felt throughout, the approach to allowing players to express themselves as a master assassin is just as strong as ever. It's uncertain where the series can go from here, but this stand-alone release proves that Dishonored is still a remarkably designed stealth-action game with much potential, that offers players the chance to be creative in ways they'd least expect.

Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite In-Progress Review

Game Spot Reviews - Mon, 09/18/2017 - 16:00

Playing Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite reminded me of a scene from Star Trek I saw as a child. It involved Kirk and Spock playing an intense game of chess, but on seven boards of varying sizes, all floating over each other. It was still a game of kings, queens, knights, and pawns strategically moving between colored squares, but the multi-tiered playing field unraveled my understanding of its fundamentals. What was the purpose of the smaller boards hovering off to the sides? Do the rules of movement change? How do you even get a checkmate?

The latest iteration of Capcom's star-studded crossover fighting game is much like Star Trek's three-dimensional chess. It takes familiar gameplay systems and characters but presents them in an entirely new way, demanding players re-examine their understanding of it as a whole. Infinite represents the most significant change to the Marvel Vs. Capcom formula since its creation, and the result is a game that's not only fun and rewarding to play, but also remedies some of the biggest issues with its predecessor. However, like Star Trek's three-dimensional chess boards, it's all held together by a functional but crude frame.

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The biggest shakeup in Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite comes with the addition of the Infinity Stones, which, in Marvel lore, correspond to a different facet of the universe: Space, Time, Mind, Reality, Soul, and Power. One stone can be taken into battle alongside two fighters, and each of them has a unique ability called "Infinity Surge" that can be used just like any other special move. These abilities open the door to a world of creative combos, setups, and strategies that the series has never had before.

Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 quickly became a game about finding the best teams and optimising their damage output, but this meant everyone largely played the same way. Infinite's Infinity Stones, however, encourage players to make characters their own, and they offer the tools to forge distinct playstyles. A Hulk player is now empowered to negate his slow movement speed by using the Time Stone's teleport function, an aggressive Dante can use the Soul Stone's health-sapping capabilities to mitigate damage from risky strategies, or a Thanos can cover his lumbering approach with the Reality Stone's homing fireball. Despite the attributes the stones bestow, each character still retains what makes them distinct among the cast. So although Hulk might have a teleport, trying to play him like Strider won't work.

The Infinity Stones also have a secondary ability called "Infinity Storm," which is charged by Surge usage. When unleashed, they unlock the full potential of the stone and give its user a big short-term advantage. In the Marvel Universe, the Stones grant immense power, and in the game each one bends a fundamental rule of fighting game design to the favor of its user. Power boosts damage, Mind refills the Hyper Combo meter, Soul revives a fallen ally, Time eliminates recovery on moves so they can be chained together, Space restricts movement, and Reality gives elemental properties to attacks. The Infinity Storm is what replaces Marvel Vs. Capcom 3's X-Factor, which, while an interesting mechanic on paper, often felt like an unfair two-button death sentence. Infinity Storm briefly changes the parameters of battle in favor of the user but still gives the other player the ability to fight on through smart play and strategy. It takes X-Factor's comeback potential, but makes it a possibility instead of a foregone conclusion, and in turn the inherent tension and drama of the moment feels more authentic.

The rabbit hole goes deeper when you factor in the tagging system, and it's here where the series' other big changes lie. Capcom has simplified tagging, but done so without sacrificing depth. At the press of a button, a teammate will sprint into the fray to take over, allowing players to extend combos for greater damage or to set up tricky situations that can potentially penetrate defenses. Teammates will always enter on the ground, which means low-effort health-melting chained air combos are a thing of the past. While it's not impossible to make combos go on for absurdly long, it's hard work since the character being tagged out is slow to leave. This places high-execution demands and strict timing requirements on players, who need to keep the combo going long enough to cover the tag cooldown. It might be frustrating to find yourself on the receiving end of one of these multi-tag combo strings, but you can be sure the player on the other side is putting in the work to make it happen.

Similarly, Infinite doesn't feel like it revolves around "Off The Ground" moves (OTG) as much. In Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, these had very simple inputs and could pop a knocked-down enemy back into the air, leaving them defenseless against a continued barrage of attacks. These moves are a little trickier to pull of now due to a limited window of opportunity. Again, when you see one happen, you know it was well-executed.

Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite's story delivers ... [It's] exactly the kind of fun, action-driven romp you'd want from a crossover of these universes.

Infinite feels like a much more grounded game than its predecessors. It moves at a slower pace than series veterans may be used to, but it also feels more honest. The fighting game community referred to Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 as a game about shenanigans; utilising the idiosyncrasies of mechanics and quirks of characters to create situations that often felt unfair. While it's too early to tell whether Infinite's systems are completely free of these, as it stands, the game's mechanics feel much more open-ended. It's less about using communal knowledge to pick the best characters, do the optimised combos, and employ the ideal strategies, and more about treating the game like a blank canvas and its mechanics as the brushes for painting your unique superhero squad.

Of course, there are those that won't think about playing Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite with such granularity, and Capcom has implemented a one-button auto-combo system to help the casual player pick up a controller and make cool stuff happen easily. The game's control scheme features two buttons for light attacks and two for heavy, but by repeatedly pressing just the light punch button you can execute a full combo, starting on the ground, launching into the air, and finishing by knocking the target back to the ground. It's a completely frictionless way to execute a full combo loop for those that just want to enjoy the spectacle of it all and have fun. To balance this, the damage these auto-combos do is considerably less than a manual combo, so a serious player shouldn't have any trouble against someone doing auto-combos. The system is a simple and intuitive way to get people started. There were some fears that concessions for the casual player could impact the depth of Infinite, but the limitations of auto-combos and the complexities of manual ones creates a gulf between the casual and hardcore. But those that want to make the journey across are given a path to follow.

Capcom has made digging deeper easy thanks to a suite of training mode options that'll be familiar to anyone who has played a recent fighting game. Infinite features a comprehensive mission mode that will walk players through the basics of movement, attacking, how the Infinity Stones work, and how they can be incorporated into play. On top of that, each character has 10 individual missions that start with basic special moves, but escalate into high-execution combos. At the later stages, these missions can be incredibly tricky, so even veterans are likely to learn a thing or two by completing them.

Capcom's last major fighting game, Street Fighter V, was criticised for its dearth of content at launch, but this criticism can't be levelled at Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite. In addition to the training modes, there's a Vs. mode that lets you go up against another player locally or a computer-controlled opponent. There's also an Arcade mode that pits players against a series of teams before ending with a final boss, and a suite of online modes including ranked and casual matches, a beginner's league, and a lobby system. GameSpot will be testing Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite's online modes post-release and updating this review with our assessment of it.

The other big draw in Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite is its Story mode, which follows an all-star cast of characters as they travel across around the amalgamation of universes to collect the Infinity Stones and stop the villainous Ultron Sigma, who is attempting to remake all of existence in his own image. Capcom's story modes have always been severely lacking, especially next to NetherRealm's offerings in the Mortal Kombat and Injustice series, but Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite's story delivers. It's a narrative that keeps it simple to allow characterization to shine through, and it does. Spider-Man is a wise-cracking goof, Tony Stark always thinks he knows better, Dante is a charming rogue, Hulk smashes, and Cap motivates. There's a light, humorous quality to everything and, in its more absurd moments--like when Frank West, a normal human with a camera, is put up against Thanos, the mad Titan--the story takes the opportunity to poke fun at itself.

The battles that take place within the story are also engaging, often asking players to smash through Ultron Sigma's mechanical robots, which are low in health but great in number. Fights against named characters are much trickier and the game will often layer on an objective, time limit, or have an outside party running interference. A few of the battles even serve as little puzzles, requiring the player to figure out how best to use an Infinity Stone to achieve victory. The Story mode is exactly the kind of fun, action-driven romp you'd want from a crossover of these universes. And there are a few nods for fans of the characters thrown in for good measure.

It's unfortunate, then, that Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite is really let down by its presentation. Much has been made of the visuals and, while it looks much better in motion than it does in still images, overall it's inconsistent and severely lacking in pizazz. While characters like Captain Marvel, Thanos, Jedah, and Gamora look vibrant and detailed, the likes of Dante, Frank West, Ryu, and Spencer aren't exactly easy on the eyes. The faces of human characters, specifically, are very rough, ranging from vacant-looking to downright ugly in poor old Frank's case. Infinite swaps out the last game's comic book style for something a little more realistic, which only serves to make the disparity between character models more pronounced. It's a shame because the different arenas fights take place in are a very cool mashup of Marvel and Capcom locales. Capcom has put thought into how it can bring the two universes together and been successful. A.I.M has been combined with Umbrella to form A.I.M Brella, Asgard with Abel City from Mega Man to make XGard, and Monster Hunter's Val Habar and Black Panther's Wakanda for Valkanda. The games various stages carry its all-star mashup ethos through nicely.

The menus in Infinite also leave a lot to be desired. They're a very workmanlike implementation of dreary-looking text on plain backgrounds, jarringly transitioning between each other, so moving around the game's user interface feels dull and lifeless. This might seem like nitpicking at something that, within the larger context of Infinite's experience, is insignificant, but as a fan, it was a letdown. Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 felt like a celebration of the two universes; it's a game bursting with reverence for source material. Its start screen literally screams the name of the game at you like that kid opening a Nintendo 64 on Christmas morning, it plays bouncing beats in the background, its character select is a comic book that you flip through, and everyone makes references to existing relationships or obscure storylines before battle. By comparison, Infinite is bereft of enthusiasm. Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is that person at a convention wearing an elaborate Dormammu outfit complete with a flaming head. Infinite is that person wearing a plain t-shirt with the Marvel logo on it.

Nevertheless, the mechanics underlying Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite make it an outstanding fighting game. Capcom has understood what caused the stagnation of Marvel Vs. Capcom 3's competitive scene and, to some extent, the issues Street Fighter V currently faces. In response it has created a fighting game focused on individuality and expression, with deep systems that reward studious players but also accommodate casuals. As someone who both plays and watches fighting games, I am excited to see what the future holds for Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite.

For more information on GameSpot’s reviews in progress, click here.

We are aware of a bug that is causing headline text on this review to display incorrectly and are working to fix this.

Look Of The Day

In Style Fashion News Feed - Mon, 09/18/2017 - 11:45

Don't Knock Twice Review

Game Spot Reviews - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 18:00

The elevator pitch for Don't Knock Twice could be applied to dozens of games. You are faced with a door leading to a house in unsettling, chilling neglect, and proceed to explore its spooky, dim-lit hallways to discover a hidden truth about its former inhabitants. However, where the fine details clearly delineate, say, Gone Home from Resident Evil 7, the details of Don't Knock Twice are almost non-existent.

Surprisingly, Don't Knock Twice is based on a movie, a low-budget 2016 British horror flick starring Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff. Sakhoff's Jess is a recovered drug addict whose estranged daughter, Chloe, returns to live with her. This is all complicated by the fact that Chloe has recently disturbed the house of a dead witch, and has brought her tortured soul to Jess's home. The movie itself isn't that notable, but gets brownie points for two things: one of the grossest dinner scenes since Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and intriguing subtext involving the intersection of parenthood and addiction.

The game hints to that plot here and there. Jess receives frequent, accusatory, and frightened text messages from Chloe throughout the game, and the occasional random document to read fills in some of the backstory. But Don't Knock Twice mostly settles for being a low-key adventure with light puzzle-solving. You spend most of your time trying to figure out which objects open various doors around the house, and solving basic riddles--all while an unseen force slams doors behind you, throws books off shelves, writes messages in blood on the walls, and generally makes life annoying while Jess tries to get stuff done.

Admirably, the house is an accurately moody recreation of the film's sets in virtual space. The soundscape drops thunder and lightning in as punctuation, and random effects like knocking doors, whispers, and screams fill in any empty aural space. But Don't Knock Twice isn't an intimidating experience, aside from the occasional well-executed jump scare. The supernatural stuff is cliche: a pentagram in the basement, a child's ball falling down a set of stairs, an unknown figure in a window upstairs. The entire game breeds a sense of “been there, done that," and is over in around an hour, well before any tension has a chance to build.

The one element that helps is the game being playable in VR, but even this has tradeoffs. Naturally, VR instantly helps with immersion, but Don't Knock Twice ties mobility to short-range teleportation: pointing at a spot in the room with a motion controller to avoid walking, and potentially VR sickness. This process is marred by collision detection almost from the beginning, where the mere act of lighting a candle feels like a wrestling match. You can switch to a regular controller, but there, the controls feel needlessly cluttered, with just about everything tied to trigger buttons.

Don't Knock Twice doesn't share company with the likes of Layers of Fear so much as it does with the large number of “VR Experiences” flooding digital storefronts: quick and dirty cash-ins that feel more like tech demos than full-fledged games. Don't Knock Twice is more solidly constructed than some, but it's largely unambitious and forgettable. It seems content to be a ground-level thriller at a time and on a platform with plenty of hungry competition.

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