Old Man’s Journey review

Old Man’s Journey, from indie developer Broken Rules, is a game for those moments when you want to contemplate and stop and smell the roses.

It’s a game for quiet times when you want something soothing and non-confronting.  It looks like a child’s water- colour book, full of pastel colours and memories of a younger time that make you smile.

The game starts with the titular Old Man receiving a letter from the postman than seems to concern him so he dons a backpack and starts on a journey. A long journey that sees him traverse hills, mountain villages, sea ports and everything in between by foot, boat and train – and have to avoid the odd flock of sheep along the way!

The quirk with this game is that you can re-shape the landscape to make paths for the old man to traverse. Can’t get across to that bridge? Just gently drag that background hill closer, enabling the Old Man to jump the gap and continue on. There are limits, though: You can’t re-shape the “line” the old man is standing on and you can’t stretch a hill further than it is capable of going.

Despite its shortness, Old Man’s Journey is punctuated by delightful moments: During a train journey as the locomotive races along the countryside, you have to join the track beneath the speeding train. If you click the bell in the lighthouse of a sea-side town, the Old Man reminisces about a wedding years ago (I’m guessing his wedding?)

If I had one criticism with Old Man’s Journey,  it would be the inclusion of “handcrafted, pressure-free puzzles (the developer’s words)”. An example of these puzzles is sometimes having to move on a flock of sheep that are blocking your path: It just felt a little unnecessary.

Old Man’s Journey is a delightful game that manages to evoke an emotional story without the spoken work just by using hand-drawn art and the emotions they conjure up.

Old Man’s Journey is available on Nintendo Switch ($US9.99), Windows PC, Mac and iOS/Android. Thanks to Broken Rules for providing a review code for Old Man’s Journey.

State of Decay 2 review: Brains, machetes & zombies

Image supplied

I’ve decided that when push comes to shove  I’d be useless when the zombie apocalypse strikes.

Of course, I’ve decided this after playing Undead Labs’ State of Decay 2, the new zombie survival game on the Xbox One (and Windows 10 PCs), but let me explain: I’d be fine when it comes to actually killing the aforementioned zombies.

I’ve got using machetes, chef’s knifes, baseball bats and tyre irons  to cave in zombie skulls and lop off zombie limbs down to a fine art but it’s the other stuff that you need to survive that I might struggle with. The keeping other people alive part.

You see, State of Decay 2, like the game before it (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my original review of State of Decay but I don’t think I rated it that highly, to be honest. I remember it was quite buggy), is a zombie survival game where you have to not only ensure your survival but also that of a rag-tag bunch of colleagues that have banded together to ensure the survival of the human race from the zombie scourge.

Success in the game not only revolves around killing the aforementioned zombies but by establishing bases, scavenging for food and resources and generally ensuring your fellow survivors are well fed, well rested, happy and, importantly of all, have all their limbs at the end of each day.

The game opens with you having to turn a ramshackle property into a fortified base: It means climbing cellphone towers and billboards, using the vantage points to search for anything that can provide supplies: medical centres, petrol (gas) stations, hospital, shopping malls and military barracks for anything – and everything – that will help in your survival. Scraps of metal can be used to build stronger fortifications and work benches that can be used to upgrade and repair weapons, and scavenged seeds can be used to grow crops for your fellow survivors.

State of Decay 2 is a zombie survival game where killing zombies is just part of it. Oh, and it also has permadeath. Let that sink in for a minute: If you or one of your squad mates dies, they’re dead for good. There’s no respawning: They’re dead, gone, kaput, six feet under, sleeping with the fishes …

Image supplied

State of Decay 2 brings some tension to the searching for supplies front as often you’ll be looking over your virtual shoulder for imminent zombie attacks as you sift through a chilly bin or a bookcase for stuff. You can do a fast search but it makes so much noise that you might as well yell at the top of your lungs “Hey, zees. I’m over here. Come and get some!

Something I learned early on was to survive for any length of time you need a vehicle but unlike other games, cars aren’t blessed with infinite amounts of petrol to keep them going. Some cars have a 1/4 tank, some will have 1/2 a tank. It depends – so you’ll often have to scavenge more fuel.

You can’t carry limitless amounts of supplies in your rucksack, either. Eventually, you’ll realise you can’t always take everything you want so sometimes it becomes a internal debate with yourself on whether you should take the boom box or the medicine (I’d take the medicine any day but that’s just me). I’ll say again: Getting a vehicle early on is extremely helpful as it means you can transfer backpack contents to the vehicle, freeing up inventory space.

State of Decay 2 has some promise as it’s much, much deeper than a zombie-fest game like,  say Dead Rising, and the spectre of character permadeath hanging over it means you tend to be more tactical in situations  rather than rush in all guns blazing but not all is perfect in this zee-infested world.

The game is buggy.  I played the game before and after a mid-review period 6Gb update was made available. At one point, a character I was talking to had no head. He just sat there on a bench, talking, with no head on his shoulders. It was quite disconcerting.

Character models are rough (with a couple of early characters that I met being downright scary looking) and for a current current generation Xbox One  game, I felt it look pretty last generation at times, to be honest, with flat and lifeless textures.

I lost count of the number of times I got a vehicle stuck on a rock that frankly it should have cleared easily, too. None of the bugs I came across were game-breaking  but it seems to be a worrying trend this generation of some publishers releasing games in a less-than-ideal state then patching out all the problems later. It’s a trend I’m not a fan off.

It’s also frustrating that if you want to swap to another character because you need another skill set or materials your current characters doesn’t have, you have to quit the current mission as you can’t do it on the fly.

No doubt, State of Decay 2 will find favour with fans of the series like the original did, and the inclusion this time of a co-op mode will widen its fan base (my son didn’t want to play co-op with me so I was unable to test out the mode for this review)  but personally, I’d wait until the inevitable patches start coming  to iron out the bugs before venturing forth into these zombie-infested wastelands.

Review code kindly supplied by Xbox New Zealand.

 

Age of Empires The Definitive Edition: Blast from the past

As far as real-time strategy games go, I spent countless hours playing the original Age of Empires when it came out God knows how many years ago (Mr Google tells me it was 20 years ago!). It was one of the first RTS games I played when I first got a PC, along with Westwood’s Red Alert.

Fast forward to 2018, and Microsoft Studios have released an Age of Empires for a new age of gamer (or those older gamers who hark back to their youth) but is it the Definitive Edition? I’m not so sure: Sure, it captures the magic of the original game but it doesn’t do anything revolutionary to the genre.

For those that aren’t familiar with Age of Empires, players start the game with a civilisation and have to grow it, researching new things and conquering other civilisations as you move through the ages. As with most RTS games of this ilk, there’s a lot of micro-management: Making sure you have enough resources to build new structures, enough food to feed the troops and enough soldiers and weapons to defend your clan from invading factions.

Campaigns in Definitive Edition include Egyptian, Roman, Japanese and Babylonian factions but fundamentally, they’re all the same basic idea with the same end goal: Grow your civilisation.

While the graphics and audio are crisper than the original (the game really does look great, boasting  4K visuals and much improved audio), sadly, some of the game’s wonky AI path finding has managed to sneak into the new game: I lost count how many times a villager just stood around waiting for the next command rather than continue the task he had been allocated until I asked him to stop.

One thing that might hamper the game is that it’s only available for Windows 10 on Microsoft’s store (so no Steam), something that might limit its market.

Age of Empires Definitive Edition will appeal to gamers who want to re-play the original on modern hardware but for RTS fans wanting something to really get their teeth into, they might need to look elsewhere.

Astroneer: The game in Alpha that just gets better & better

I haven’t backed many games through things like Kickstarter. Maybe four or five in total.

I backed Tim Schaefer’s Broken Age, which in hindsight I wished I hadn’t as it took far too long to arrive and then I didn’t actually end up playing it (I think it took so long to get finished that I just  gave up on it completely.

I obviously haven’t lost faith in Schaefer completely as I’ve also backed Psychonauts 2. Hey, the original game was underrated and bloody good – and I have to admit, progress on number two is looking really good (I hope it isn’t fool me twice, shame on me with this one).

Late last year, I backed mountain biking game Lonely Mountains. I think it appealed to me because a) It has a really appealing low-poly look to it and b) I like mountain biking so it seems like a win-win for me, really.

Last year, I also backed Astroneer, from System Era Software and I have to say I haven’t regretted it for a second. The game is still in its Alpha stage but, man, the team behind it is knocking it out of the park with new features and support.

Long story short: You’re an astronaut on a proceduraly generated planet that must craft and mine to survive. It sounds simple but, actually, it’s quite complex.I guess it’s kind of like Minecraft but in space and with 3D printers that you can print buggies and a backpack that lets you craft dynamite and power generators.

The most recent update – the biggest update yet – has dramatically changed the opening moments : Instead of a simple capsule habitat, you  know have a wonderful, large base. Oh, just watch this video, you’ll see what I mean.

This is one game that I’m glad I dropped the cash on.

Let me know what you think about Astroneer in the comments.

Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice in pictures

Update: I’ve added two more images that I took tonight. I set up the images using the game’s in-built photo mode but capture the images in Geforce Experience’s Ansel capture mode.

I’m about three hours into Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice & I’m really liking it. A lot. I don’t regret taking the plunge and pre-ordering it.

The combat is visceral and solid,  and the audio is outstanding: Wear headphones if you play it.  Your ears will thank me.

I took some images while I was playing it tonight using Geforce Experience, rather than the game’s in-built photo mode. I didn’t tweak with the settings: Just capture them with the default settings. I’ll take more as I play.

Enjoy

Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice: A trip into the mind

I took the plunge over the weekend and pre-ordered Ninja Theory’s Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice from Steam (it’s also available on PS4). It cost me $35.99, not unreasonable for a game from a studio known for games like Enslaved Odyssey to the West,  Heavenly Sword and the DmC (Devil may Cry).

While I’m not usually a fan of pre-ordering games – I don’t think it’s a practice we should encourage – I was OK with this one. It was from a developer whose games I have enjoyed in the past and with Hellblade, Ninja Theory is trying something different by tackling the difficult subject of mental health.

Plus, it’s only available digitally, meaning no manufacturing costs and it it was only $35. I would have been less sure of taking the risk on it if it had been $60. Or $100 (and to show how tight I am about how much I spend on games: I went with PC because it was cheaper than on PlayStation 4, despite the fact that my PC’s graphics card fell under the recommended specs).

The game unlocked on Steam this morning and I started downloading it before I left for work.

This isn’t a review: I’ve only played it for about 1/2 an hour and haven’t even touched the sides of what the game is but so far it’s a harrowing tale into the mind of Senua, a young warrior battling with her inner demons in a game steeped in Nordic and Celtic mythology. It’s game world is dark and gritty, with a real sense of uncertainty about what is going on, and the game play is a mix of combat (with fast and heavy strikes), with Senua squaring off against the manifestations (and voices) in her head, and simple environmental puzzles that shouldn’t stump you if you know what you’re looking for.

Early on in the game, Senua fights a battle that is unwinnable but is infected by black tendrills on one of her arms from that point players are told that the tendrills will spread with each failure (I take that to mean with each in game death) and once the tendrills reach her head, it’s game over and the game starts you from the beginning, wiping your save game. I take that to mean if you die too many times, the game imposes permadeath on you, forcing you back to the beginning. It’s a bold move by Ninja Theory but one that was perhaps done to make Senua’s fight with her demons that more real and permanent.

Graphically, the game looks really nice with a moody atmosphere and harrowing sound design. I needn’t have worried about my GPU, either: Using the high graphics presets, I’m getting a stable 35 to 40 frames per second. The game actually started the game with the graphics presets at Very High by default, which still game me a pretty solid 30FPS, with the odd dip here and there. I’m happy with that performance given the age of my GPU.

Ninja Theory reckons Hellblade is between six to eight hours in length: Suits me. My time for gaming these days is precious so experiences that are short and sweet are just what I’m after.

I’m intrigued by Hellblade and what Ninja Theory are doing. I’ll let you know how I find it once I’ve gone deeper into the rabbit hole.

 

Enslaved Odyssey to the West: A great but flawed gem

I never finished my first play through of Ninja Theory’s Enslaved Odyssey to West: It’s niggles & frustrations just got too much for me, despite me really enjoying the journey tale of main characters Monkey and Trip.

Last weekend, I decided to reinstall it on Steam and make my way through it again. I’m really glad I did. Sure, the niggles & frustrations are still annoying me from time to time but I’ve put those aside to focus on the story and the relationship that develops between the two lead characters. That’s the really stellar thing about the game: The relationship.

The game takes place in an apocalyptic world 150 years into the future where robots still present the biggest challenge and danger and very few humans exist anymore. The world is one full of danger at almost every turn.

One of the game’s biggest strengths is its combat, which while relatively simplistic, sees monkey battle a variety of mechanical beasts using a staff that can not only bash the shite out of foes but can fire plasma bolts that can stun and blast enemies. Chain enough hits and Monkey can perform a takedown move which will short circuit larger foes. The story is written by Alex Garland, the same writer behind one of my favourite movies, Dredd, and features Andy Serkis (he who did the motion capture work and voice of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies) and Lindsey Shaw.

I think what really sells me on Enslaved is the developing relationship between Monkey and Trip and the emotions that develop as their bond grows and the pair learn to trust each other and work together. It’s a game that treats its players like mature adults not reliant on clichés and gimmicks to move the narrative along. There was some DLC released featuring a character called Piggy but I haven’t got that yet. Maybe I might pick it up.

Sometimes, taking a break between playing a game can make you enjoy it more the second time around. That’s definitely the case with Enslaved Odyssey to the West. Hopefully, Ninja Theory might decide to make a sequel. I’d pay to play that.

Impact Winter review: Surviving winter

Inside the church where Jacob, Blane, Wendy, Maggie and Christophe are sheltering after an asteroid struck earth, plunging it into winter.

According to Wikipedia, an impact winter is “a hypothesized period of prolonged cold weather due to the impact of a large asteroid or comet on the Earth’s surface” – and that’s the premise behind Impact Winter (PC: Xbox One and PlayStation 4 later this year), a survival game from developer Mojo Bones and published by Bandai Namco.

Players control Jacob Solomon, one of four survivors eeking out an existence in an abandoned church after an asteroid has hit earth, plunging it into perpetual wintry conditions. The group’s robot companion, Ako-Light intercepts a radio transmission indicating that help will arrive in 30 days. You have to explore the game world, searching for supplies to help you survive until help arrives.

The game really does an excellent job of a bleak existence as the result of a cataclysmic event. Jacob’s fellow survivors – Christophe, Blane, Wendy and Maggie – can be given tasks to complete while Jacob goes out and searches abandoned house for supplies and equipment that will help speed up how long it takes for help to arrive.  Tasks can be things like repairing the church to upgrade its resilience in the harsh weather or making equipment that help in the search for better supplies. In the game’s early stages, Jacob will also has to make sure that the fire in the church, which provides heat and cooking facilities for the group, is constantly fueled.

Part of the charm (is it charm?) about Impact Winter is that there’s a real sense of urgency in trying to find supplies then get back to the church to get stuff done. Every time Jacob or the other survivors achieve a milestone, XP points are earned and  time is taken off how long it will take for help to arrive, allowing more skills/roles to be assigned to the characters. There’s also a real sense of hopelessness at times with Impact Winter as during one expedition I had to hurry back to the church as I was notified that Blane was not feeling well. By the time I got back to the church – the temperature had plummeted to -7 degrees – Blane, Wendy and Christophe who are all bed-ridden, hungry and unwell, and the fire had died. I wasn’t doing too well and had to use all the wood I had gathered to help repair the roof to fuel the fire.

Jacob trudging through the winter.

Impact Winter does a great job in setting a gloomy, post-apocalyptic scene, with Jacob wading through knee-high snow and being buffeted by arctic winds. Houses and business as dark and gloomy and often you’ll have to decide what to take and what to leave behind. Ako-Light, your robot buddy, has a powerful spotlight that is useful for illuminating dark spots and can help dig out objects from the ground.

Sadly, Impact Winter is hampered by technical issues, which is a shame. Sometimes, the game takes a while to load (but that seems to have been sorted) and even though I was using a game pad, button presses don’t always do what they’re supposed to. The key layout just seems to be a mess (apparently, a patch is on the way to sort out the key binding issues).

Technical issues aside, there’s a huge amount of depth to Impact Winter – and a huge amount to like – and it’s a game where you have to carefully pay attention to the other members of your party and not go Rambo and head off on your own for too long. Sure, it takes a bit of getting used to juggling everything you have to do to survive – I’m failing miserably right now – but Impact Winter is an interesting idea that just needed a bit more polish before it was released.

Jacob outside the entrance to the church where the survivors are living.

 

Thanks to Bandai Namco for providing a review code for Impact Winter.

 

 

 

Lonely Mountains: Mountain biking, low-poly styles

No doubt I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a keen cyclist, both mountain and road, so when a Twitter friend (thanks @museste) let me know about Lonely Mountains, my interest was piqued.

Lonely Mountains describes itself as a “downhill mountain biking game for PC focusing on responsive and fun controls, an open level design and an untouched nature in a beautiful low poly style”.

I’m digging the art style and simplistic nature of Lonely Mountains, but apart from the trailer I don’t know much more about it, like how big will it be, how does progression through the game work and is there an online aspect .The game is being worked on my Berlin, Germany indie studio Megagon Industries founded in 2013. Two of the three-man team are working on Lonely Mountains, which is tentatively aiming for a 2018 release.

Lonely Mountains reminds me a lot of the game Trials HD, mainly because it’s a game where you ride a trials motorbike through a variety of courses, aiming to beat times and do tricks to earn points. Megagon says the game will feature custom bike physics, secret locations, tracks that you can ride from top to bottom without encountering a loading screen and open-world game play, meaning you can follow tracks or find your own way to the end point. All the screen shots show the game in a pre-Alpha state so there’s still a fair bit of work to go.

The developers say other potential features will include weather systems (snow, rain, wind), a dynamic day and night system, a replay & share system, and rider and bike customisation. As I said earlier, my interest is piqued and I’m going to follow the progress of Lonely Mountains closely.

Now, if I could only be as skilled on my mountain bike as the low-poly rider featured in the trailer …

 

Prey impressions: Did that coffee mug just move? DID IT JUST MOVE??

Here are my thoughts so far on Prey, the first-person shooter set in space from Bethesda. I haven’t finished the game yet but thought I’d let you know what I thought from what I’ve played. I’m playing on Xbox One using a code supplied by Bethesda

If Prey has taught me one thing, it’s this: Be wary of coffee mugs.

You heard me right: Be wary of coffee mugs. And office chairs. And globes. And bath towels. You see, in Prey, sometimes items aren’t what they seem. They could be the game’s alien life form, called a mimic, that’s out to eat your face.

Set in the year 2035 on the Talos 1 space station (in an era when John F Kennedy wasn’t assassinated and Russia and the US are working together to build the first space station), Prey is, I guess, a re-imagining (of sorts) of the original Prey, with the player controlling Morgan Yu, a scientist/test subject who has to find out what has caused a breakout of the alien mimic life form. As we’ve seen in many games before Prey, Yu can’t remember what has gone before so as he explores the Talos 1 things and events become a lot clearer.

Prey has a real Bioshock/Half Life/Dishonored feel about – and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Half Life because, well, the first weapon Yu finds is a wrench, Bioshock because Yu can upgrade his abilities (through a skill tree)  using augmentations called neuromods and Dishonored because the studio behind the Dishonored games – Arkane Studios – is also the developer behind Prey.

What follows is exploration and fetch quests as Yu wanders about Talos 1, trying to get to the bottom of what caused the mimic containment break. It’s an amalgam of several games, wrapped up into one. The mimics are the game’s enemies and smaller ones are black, spider-like creatures that can suck the life force from humans, causing them to multiply. They’re also incredibly fast and can often jump at you from nowhere. The wrench comes in handy with the smaller mimics but weapons like shotguns, a gun that fires blogs of glue and a pistol is handy against larger humanoid enemies like phantoms, which often have powers of their own and move incredibly swiftly. A nice touch are the service robots – called operators – that can be fabricated to repair your suit and heal you up. Another nice touch is that you can recycle all the junk you’ll inevitably pick up (lemon peels, scraps of paper, alcohol bottles) using recycling machines and turn them into materials, both organic and synthetic, that can be used to create equipment and weapons.

I have to admit that I jumped a few times while playing Prey. It’s not because it’s overly scary, because it’s not, but it’s because I just seem to wuss out when it comes to horror/survival games. I can watch horror movies no problem but horror video games? Man, I need to keep a spare pair of underwear handy. I guess it’s because with horror movies it’s easy to see what’s going to happen. With horror games, I genuinely find I have no idea what’s going to happen.

With no word of a lie, I stood outside the doorway of a room that was bathed in darkness for 10 minutes, not wanting to go into it, because I was worried some mimic was going to transform from a coffee mug into a spidery alien and try to eat my face. My fears are real, people. My fears are real.

I spent countless times – wrench at the ready – inching forward towards desks with coffee cups resting on them, worried one of them was a mimic. Someone I follow on social media said they found a desk with two coffee cups on it – and one of them rolled to the side, disappearing somewhere in the room. I would have lost it right there.

Eventually, Yu is able to scan the environment for mimics from a distance but, yeah, not knowing whether a coffee cup – or some other object – is actually what it appears to be is quite unnerving.

Missions are what you’d expect – go here and get a keycard that will open a door to another area, go to this room to recover something for someone who will give you a code for something – but there are  some interesting side quests that add to the back story to what happened on the Talos 1 before the mimic containment break. Talos 1 is also an interesting setting, too: It’s a living  space station with crew quarters, kitchens, reactors, medical rooms, cargo bays and nooks and crannies to explore. Prey’s story is an interesting one as well, set in a place where nothing is as it seems.

While nothing like the sequel to the original game (which came out last generation in 2006) that Human Head was working on before Bethesda canned it, so far Prey is a lot of fun that really has a Bioshock/Half Life vibe to it.

One thing is for certain: It’s made me look at coffee mugs in a whole different light.