Objects in Space: Old-school space adventuring

I first met Leigh Harris, the Australian behind indie game developer Flat Earth Game‘s Objects in Space (now in Early Access) during the early 2000s when he did PR for Rockstar and Take Two Interactive for Australia and New Zealand.

Leigh was an instantly likeable and pleasant PR man who, importantly, understood  how gamers and journalists thought, and more importantly, did whatever he could to accommodate me, a then-kind-of-full-time-games writer across the ditch in New Zealand.

Little did I know that years later, I’d be closely following Leigh’s fascinating journey as a game developer and co-founder of Flat Earth Games  after a career spanning PR and video games journalism.

Flat Earth’s first game was a crafting and city building game called Towncraft (2011), which I remember playing, I think, on my iPod Touch. Next came Metrocide (2014), a top-down stealth action game that had strong vibes of Blade Runner and Deus Ex to it.

When Flat Earth announced Objects in Space, I sat up and took a little more notice. Here was an open-world, stealth trading game set in a huge universe where you’re the captain of your vessel but have to manage everything yourself, managing multiple screens and controls to ensure success, taking on contracts to earn coin and generally be a jack of all trades out in space.I just seemed like an intriguing take on the space genre.

Think of Objects in Space as strategic management of space travel and adventuring where you have to take contracts, deliver goods, upgrade your ship and outrun pirates  rather than dog-fighting through the asteroids, barking orders at Mr Chekhov to set deflector shields to full and pointing photon torpedoes at fast-approaching enemies, threatening to blow them to smithereens.

In fact, combat is more akin to submarines waging a stealthy battle underwater than toe-to-toe laser battles (in fact, I think Leigh likens the combat to that between submarines and Objects in Space is complex and deep (very, very complex and deep)  but strangely satisfying, keeping me up at night when I’d told my wife I was going to bed in “10 minutes after I’ve done this thing.” (As you probably guessed, I didn’t go to bed in 10 minutes)

I bought Objects in Space for two reasons. One: It was genuinely fascinated in what Leigh and Flat Earth Games was doing here (and for around $20 I had nothing to lose) after following its progress over the past few years, and two: I wanted to support an indie developer/studio that I genuinely felt deserved to succeed.

I’m enjoying it far more than I expected I would as it has an old-school feel about it to the games that I grew up with as a child, especially the low-poly graphics. I grew up on Lucasart point-and-click games, games like Magic Carpet from Bullfrog, Ultimate Play The Game stuff on the ZX Spectrum. Objects in Space just appeals to that old-school gamer in me where game play was king and graphics took second place, and I love that about it..

I can’t say I really know what I’m doing most of the time (and what have the screens do) and must admit that I have no confidence in my abilities in how to successfully navigate the universe of Objects in Space but so far, my time with this space sim has been nothing but a joy.

 

 

 

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

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 …

 

ReCore review: One girl and her robots

Meet Seth, Mack and Duncan.

They’re Corebots and the co-stars of the Xbox One/PC game ReCore, a game from Japanese game developer Keiji Inafune, the man behind the Mega Man series, and a development team that have worked on a variety of games, including Metroid Prime.

Seth, a spider-bot, is good at climbing, Mack, a dog,  is good at headbutting other Corebots and Duncan, a gorilla, is good at smashing pretty much anything you ask him to.

This is Joule, she’s the main human character in ReCore.

Hero Shot of Joule

Hero Shot of Joule

 

Joule has been sent to the planet Far Eden to help set up terraforming operations before humans start colonising the planet. Unfortunately, things seems to have gone pear-shaped and Joule wakes from her cryosleep decades later than she should have and finds the robots designed to help make the planet habitable have turned rogue and Joule has to sort things out.

As she explores Far Eden, Joule must search for things called prismatic cores, glass prisms of light that unlock doors to help her progress through the game world. ReCore is very much an action RPG game, in that Joule has to search dungeons and complete challenges to get enough prismatic cores to progress.

Platforming is the heart of the game, drawing inspiration from Inafune and his Mega Man heritage no doubt, with plenty of double jumping and boosting to grab out-of-reach platforms. Combat, too, is a prime focus of the game, with Joule and her robotic pals having to fight plenty of corrupt robots as they scour the planet.

Joule using Seth to traverse an area

Joule using Seth to traverse an area

Seth, Mack and Duncan can be upgraded and modified to make them more powerful and stronger and Joule herself is a handy scrapper, too, able to zip and jump around thanks to a jet pack and an energy weapon that fires four different coloured charges: Red, blue, white and yellow. Shoot an enemy with the corresponding coloured energy and you’ll do more damage and defeat it quicker.

Destroyed, enemies explode in a satisfying shower of collectible parts but Joule is also able to rip out a vulnerable enemy’s core using a grappling hook. What ensues is a satisfying tug of war between Joule and the defiant Corebot as both battle to hold onto the core.

recore_enviro4ReCore is a fun game with a genuinely interesting dynamic between Joule and her bots but it’s hampered by some incredibly long long load times on the Xbox One and some frustrating platforming sections which will almost have you throwing your controller across the room. At least, I found some of the sequences frustrating.  There’s also a fair bit of backtracking and grind to search for more prismatic cores when you  realise you don’t have enough to progress.

ReCore is also one of the first games in Xbox’s Play Anywhere scheme where if you buy a digital copy on PC or Xbox One, you get another copy for free on the other platform, and it works. To be honest, I played it on PC as it proved more stable than the Xbox One version with improved graphics (there is still some glitching, especially when you quit the game) and much faster load times. I was also impressed that I was able to have the graphics cranked up quite high despite having a few-years-old nVidia Geforce GTX660Ti (I’m sure locking the frame rate to 30 seconds also helped a lot).

Another thing in ReCore’s favour is the price: It’s only around $NZ60, which for a new game is a great price.

I enjoyed ReCore but wonder whether it might have been rushed out of that gate a little early. A bit more spit and polish and it would have been a great game, rather than just a good game. I’m intrigued to see where the franchise goes from here.

 

Nightdive’s System Shock remake is teasing me to back it

I never played the original System Shock which came out in 1994.

I did, however, play System Shock 2, a 1999 game that scared the bejezus out of me. I don’t think I finished it. I was too scared to finish it.

Actually, I still have the CD Rom of it in a cupboard somewhere but I’m still too scared to play it. Besides, I’m not sure the disc-based version would work on Windows 10 and if there was a hack, I’m guessing it would involve mind-boggling hard things.

System Shock was something of a watershed moment in gaming and it put the players on Citadel Station where they had to fight against cyborgs and mutated crew members created by the diabolical AI Shodan.

56731be5492e09401420454944899d53_originalNightdive Studios, an American game developer probably known most for a remaster of Turok,  has a fondness for System Shock so a few weeks ago started its Kickstarter to fund a remake of the classic game. With 15 days still to go, Nightdive has reached its target of $US900,000.

I’ve been following the Kickstarter closely, each days “Umming” and “Ahhing” on whether I should back it (mainly whether I’d play it due to its scaryness) but as each day goes by, I’m seriously contemplating plonking down $US30  which will secure me a copy of the game on either PC or Xbox One (no PS4 as of yet) when it’s released (supposedly) in December, 2017. I also think I was a little hesitant to back it yet because I wanted to wait and see whether it actually reached its target first.

As part of a sweetener for potential backers to see how much work Nightdive had already done on the remake (it’s not a remaster: A remaster has already been done), the developer released a pre-Alpha demo through GOG.com, Humble Bundle and Steam  – a proof of concept, I suppose – of System Shock on PC which offered a short, vertical slice of what sort of things to expect. I was impressed, if I’m being honest, despite it only being about 10 minutes long and me realising that my now much-outdated nVidia GTX660Ti  wouldn’t handle the finished PC version.

Sure, the demo wasn’t perfect but it showed that Nightdive were serious about making a success with this campaign and indicated what direction the developer was likely to take. Honestly, I wish more Kickstarter campaigns for video games would offer a demo of what to expect with their campaigns.

WrenchSystemshockNightdive has a few more stretch goals if the campaign reaches certain milestones before the campaign period is up (ie $1.7m will bring enemy limb dismemberment, more puzzles, ammo types/weapon settings, vending machines, basic components/research, RPG progression, weapon upgrading, hardcore mode (No respawning), ironman mode (Only 1 savegame. If you die, the save is deleted). I highly doubt it’ll reach $1.7 million – now that it’s reached its goal funding seems to have slowed down quite a bit – but the core game has been funded. That’s an important milestone.

Although the core game has been funded, it’ll be interesting to see how much Nightdive gathers in the remaining 15 days of the campaign but it’s 15 days for me to convince myself I need to back it.

If I do, I’ve then got until December, 2017 to muster up the courage to play it.

 

 

The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine DLC: Geralt goes out in style

Well, Geralt of Rivea, it’s been quite a ride.

Through three games on a variety of formats, the mutated monster hunter from developer CD Projekt Red has carved a name for himself as a hero and likeable character. Yes, a likeable character as well as a bit of a rogue.

CD Projekt Red have made no secret that this is the last adventure of Geralt of Rivea, and if this indeed the case, it’ll go down as one of the most satisfying and wonderful final appearances ever.

Pwooar, look at all those bright colours. And sunflowers. And Geralt. It's lovely!!

Pwooar, look at all those bright colours. And sunflowers. And Geralt. It’s lovely!!

Where The Witcher 3 was quite dark, both in colour and theme, Blood & Wine is bursting with colour, especially in the opening moments as Geralt rides into Toussaint, a region based on the south of France that is bursting with vibrant colour: Yellows, greens, blues – and that’s just in the armour worn by some of the region’s military. Geralt even gets his own vineyard to chill out in between slaying monsters and chasing beasts.

But make no mistake, this is a Witcher game as Geralt must use all his weapons skill and magic to defeat a foul beast that is terrorising Toussaint and leaving slaughtered corpses in its wake (essentially vampires). Here’s the trailer to give you an idea what to expect:

CD Projekt Red suggests players be at least level 34 to tackle Blood & Wine – and they’re right. It’s a challenge that will keep you on your toes but if you haven’t reached level 34, and you’re happy to discard the character you spent countless hours to craft and refine,  you can use a pre-created character that starts the game at level 34.

Like The Witcher 3, I opted to play Blood & Wine on PC using my ageing but still capable (it seems) nVidia Geforce GTX660Ti. It does an admirable job but I lock the frame rate at 30 and play at a resolution of 1080p. It seemed to be rock solid, with perhaps only the odd frame rate drop from time to time.

Blood & Wine opens, pretty much, with what is a fairly easy battle against an angry troll but it seems to wonderful taking place in a brightly coloured paddock, with blue sky ahead and sunflowers nearby. It almost seems un-Witcher like but things soon take a turn to familiar territory with all manner of foul creatures wanting to rip Geralt a new one.

As if was a while since I’d played The Witcher 3, it took a bit for me to get to grips with the controllers again but soon enough it all felt familiar. I liked that some of the boss fights were far removed from the original game, meaning things felt fresh.

Knights. With brightly coloured armour. And armoured horses. Huzzah!

Knights. With brightly coloured armour. And armoured horses. Huzzah!

There are new weapons, armour, equipment, mutations and even Gwent cards. There’s even the ability to dye pieces of armour to add a bit of individuality to Geralt’s armour (if it’s worn). If this is the final time we’ll see Geralt, I actually think I’m going to miss his dry wit and charm and with Blood & Wine then the developers have gone out all singing and all dancing, which is a great thing.

If you’re a fan of The Witcher and the deep world that CD Projekt Red have created, Blood & Wine is a no brainer. Really, it is. It’s a fitting send off to a magnificent world and a memorable character.  Hopefully, though, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Geralt of Rivea.

 

 

My most loved games of 2015

When I wrote for a metropolitan newspaper, I did the obligatory “Games of the Year” write-up, which culminated in my best pick as Game of the Year.

I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m not going to decide from the games I’ve played this year (which hasn’t been as many in past years) which one is the best of the lot. What I’m going to do is tell you which games were my highlight of the year, in no particular order.

Let’s start, shall we?

The cast of Until Dawn: They quite like what I've written about the game they star in, too.

The cast of Until Dawn: They quite like what I’ve written about the game they star in, too.

Until Dawn: Something of a surprise hit to everyone, which is even more surprising as I can’t recall it getting a lot of marketing love from PlayStaiton. It’s also a game that I didn’t actually play until after watching a YouTube walkthrough. Yep, that’s right: I played it after watching a video playthrough. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of horror games and Until Dawn is a horror game, through and through, so I wanted to see how scary it was going to be. It has jump scares but it’s almost like a pick-your-own adventure where you determine the path that the characters take then they do it. Yes, it’s cliche-ridden and holds your hand at times but it’s horror done right.

BatmanBatman Arkham Knight: Probably one of the only AA titles that I really, really enjoyed this year. I’ve always liked Rocksteady’s take on Batman and Arkham Knight was no different, even if the Batmobile might have been overused too much and there were too many of those damn tank battles (those who have played it will know what I mean). What I’ve always liked about Rocksteady’s Batman series is the grittiness and the ever presence darkness that Batman is all about. Arkham Knight might not be the best in the trilogy but it’s damn good. [I’m sure someone will exclaim “But you can’t say Arkham Knight was a good game because it was broken on PC!”. Actually, I can say it was a good game because a) I played it on PS4 and had no problems  and b) it’s my list and I can have whatever games on it I like.]

life-is-strange-episode-1-0016Life is Strange: Dontnod’s episodic coming of age story about Arcadia Bay teenager Max Caulfield (with a little bit of super powers thrown in) was a bit of a slow burner for me. I played the first episode months ago, and liked it, but it didn’t capture me right away. May it was the at times cringe-worthy dialogue, but I could see it had promise and Max’s ability to rewind time to change events held all sorts of interesting propositions. For some reason or another, I didn’t start playing the second episode until few weeks ago. I finished it a couple of nights ago and I’m interested again. It was if the writers stepped things up a notch at episode two and it’s not captured my attention. Hopefully, I’ll finish the other episodes before the end of the year.

screenshot0607Everybody’s Going to the Rapture: Yes, The Chinese Room’s latest game could be described as a walking simulator because that’s what you do most of the time but I loved it for the story that it told and the emotional narrative. Set in a quaint English village after an apocalyptic event, the player has to unravel and piece together what has happened to the villagers by tracing the paths left by, I guess, their spirits that are still around the village. The story telling and emotional voice acting is what gripped me from start to finish. I didn’t care that it was slow-paced and measured. It was quite nice not having to shoot anything, either.

rise-of-the-tomb-raider08Rise of the Tomb Raider: The latest game featuring long-time video game adventurer Lara Croft is perhaps one of the best as she once again tries to find a precious artifact that will destroy the world if it falls into the wrong hands. While being an Xbox One exclusive for the time being may harm the sales of the game, Rise of the Tomb Raider is better than Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider reboot because, pure and simple, it features more tombs to explore, and that, for the most part, is why people started playing Tomb Raider games. Rise is a return to form for the series.

What are your favourites for the year?

Element: The realtime strategy game for those who don’t have lots of time for RTS

element_005According to Tauranga, New Zealand game developer Flightless, Element is a real-time strategy game set in space “for people who don’t have time to play realtime strategy space games”.

The game is currently on Steam Early Access for PC, Mac and Linux, and over the years, I’ve covered games made by Flightless (most notably its iOS game Bee Leader) so was lucky enough to get a Steam code for Element.  As you can see from the screen shots, it’s got a really nice art style to it and colour palate. I also hear it was received favourably at this year PAX Aus, and, frankly, I can see why.

element_008Element’s story is set in a time where you are onboard a space craft escaping a decaying solar system. You must visit each planet, mine enough element and defeat the enemy to progress to the outer planets and beyond. You’ll build attack and defence units and assault enemies while mining the planet you’re on for valuable resources using the elements of fire, earth, air and water.

I’ve had a few games of Element and things start off easily, with just a few enemy units to get rid of, but as the game progresses it gets harder, and you find yourself having to flick between mining resources and attacking enemies. You’ll find yourself rotating the planet as you plonk down defensive units then target enemy attack units, hoping to shoot them out of the sky before they destroy your base.

I think Flightless are on the money when they said Element is a realtime space strategy game for those who don’t have time for realtime space strategy games which, let’s be honest, require hours and hours of time to play. I like that Element is the sort of game that you can play through one or two campaign then call it quits for the night but still feel satisfied.

Here’s me playing through Element’s tutorial level:

I’m really liking Element so far and I’ll continue working my way through its planets. No doubt things will get tougher as it progresses, with tougher enemies and challenges, but I love its art style and, importantly, it’s a realtime strategy game that has mission campaigns that are short enough for busy people, like me (and I’d say you too, dear reader) so I don’t have to dedicate a million hours to progress.

I love, too, that Element is from a New Zealand developer that I’ve followed closely over my years as a games writer.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on Element.

My week in gaming: Old skool point-and-click adventuring

I’ve been old-skooling it in gaming this week, after picking up a Lucasarts adventure game bundle off Steam last week. I haven’t played any Fallout 4 since picking up The Dig, Loom, Indiant Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for the princely sum of … [drum roll please] $2.99.

A coincidence, do you think?

I’m enjoying The Dig, although to be fair, I’ve always been a fan of Lucasarts’ point-and-click adventure games. It’s a nice chance of pace from games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Fallout 4, which I’m starting to wonder has just too much stuff to do in it. I’m not sure I have enough hours to devote to a game that takes 50+ hours to finish!

TheDigastronautsThe Dig seems to have had a mixed reception from both gamers and critics, and to be fair, some of the puzzles are ridiculously difficult (there’s one where you have to work out the sequence of colours for a robot arm to pick up a lens) but I’m hooked in the story, which tells of three astronauts who end up on a strange alien world after an asteroid threatens to hit the earth.

Key_Art_-_Psychonauts_2.0In other news, you might have heard that Tim Schafer and the team at Double Fine have announced Psychonauts 2 and they need our help to fund its development. I’m excited about this (even though I gave up on Broken Age despite backing it). So excited that I pledge some dollars to it tonight. Well, I think I did. I still haven’t received a confirmation email yet. I hope that doesn’t mean something bad.

On the hardware front, I’m currently looking at a Huawei watch and I have to say I’m impressed. My poor LG G Watch R hasn’t had a look in since I’ve had it. I’m also getting a Samsun Gear 2 smart watch sometime next week. I’ll post my thoughts as soon as I can.

What have you been playing? Have you been old skooling it as well?

 

How nice to see you again, Agent 47

I’ve played pretty much all of the Hitman games (including Hitman Go the mobile game: It’s really, really good), the series featuring bald Agent 47 who has a barcode tattooed on the back of his head.

The last Hitman game, Absolution, was pretty good, and there’s a new game coming in the next year called Hitman (just Hitman, it seems), which features a younger looking Agent 47 than the one that appeared in Absolution. I’m not sure whether it’s set in his early days or developer IO Interactive just felt he needed a facelift but the game is said to bring us an Agent 47 when he was at the prime of his assassinating career.

Anyway, SquareEnix (the publisher) has released a new game play trailer from the game’s Showstopper mission, set to the backdrop of a Paris fashion show. It’s alpha footage and looks good to me and is said to give players to assassinate key targets a variety of ways (although I’m always amused with things like a character strolling around with a huge ass sniper rifle hanging across his back. Doesn’t anyone notice that sort of thing?)

What do you think?