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Dark Devotion, an action RPG by Hibernian Workshop and published by the Arcade Crew. The game’s world has a gothic, pixel art style and is inspired by authors such as Edgar Allen Poe. Dark Devotion’s morbid tone has received praise at showings at PAX 2018 and from early previews. The game will be launching sometime in the first quarter of 2019 on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. 

You can check out the brutal “boss trailer in the video below. Will you be picking up Dark Devotion when it launches this year?

Dark Devotion - Boss Trailer (PC, PS4, Switch) - YouTube

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Welcome back to the Indie GOTY 2018 Roundup, a DIY shelter away from the hollow fists of the AAA game industry that forcibly reign down upon us. A list devised by this here site to spotlight passion projects from those who merely love video games and have realized their own visions of what can be accomplished through them. The ten games listed total (five presented here, five presented prior by Sam) are a mere glimpse of what determined independent auteurs offered to the art form this year, but are all titles we unabashedly recommend you play.

Old School Musical

Old School Musical is a love-letter to its own medium, an odyssey through video game iconography framed through the lens of nostalgia. The simple rhythm game mechanics allow players to directly interact with an integral facet of retro games, the bit-crushed music! Fifty original chiptune tracks are provided by a variety of composers, directly invoking specific video games in step with its visual design. There’s a balance of enamor and irreverence translated across Old School Musical’s deployment of nostalgic cues. This is helped by the snarky duo of Rob & Tib, the protagonists making their way through a gauntlet of glitched-out game environments and malicious chicken empires.

The reimagining of every property from Outrun to The Last of Us approaches parody, but understands their respective frameworks and pays homage to the details in a heartfelt manner. There is an undeniable degree of care directing Old School Musical’s design from top-to-bottom, making its gameplay rewarding even beyond the dependable joy of rhythm play. Old School Musical is unafraid to offer up a bit of a challenge on higher difficulties and even contains multiple campaigns (with separate soundtracks), making it a must-purchase for rhythm game fans and retro culture acolytes alike.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

Courtesy of Steam

Bloodstained could not be more anachronistic if it physically ran on the NES, which is the foundation of the game’s excellence. Under the blessings of franchise producer/programmer Koji Igarashi, Bloodstained is an unerring monument to the lore and gameplay of Castlevania. Levels remain open to exploration and grounded by gargantuan boss battles, all manageable with fast enough reflexes and shrewd strategizing, albeit sometimes just barely. The game offers a towering challenge in spades and retains most every other essential quality of the earliest Castlevania titles.

Movement controls are perfectly fine-tuned to the looseness of the originals (only oxymoronic if you haven’t played them). The visuals look the part while introducing newer, more surreal character designs. Bloodstained is arguably a tribute first but introduces enough new characteristics to be more than a mere retread. Regardless, it’s a breath of fresh air as Castlevania plays catch-up with gaming tropes. There’s furious playability present in the gameplay running concurrently with its deceptive simplicity. The reward of outmaneuvering demons and striking them down with a few swift attacks proves eternal, as much as the gothic corridors you journey through.

Pig Eat Ball

Amidst the technical landmarks and storytelling breakthroughs of the year, it would be dishonest not to admit that one of the simplest releases of the year is what perhaps consumed the most of my time. Pig Eat Ball is an extensive arrangement of item collectathons partitioned into bite-sized pursuits that constantly fit its gameplay into new molds. Pig Eat Ball chokes down Pac-Man’s mechanics, spits them back out, and gives them a new demented arrangement where pellet consumption is always a compromise. The pellet collection that ties every level together also increases the size of your character and decreases their speed, both of which have to be accounted for by temporarily throwing your pellets back up. This leads to a winningly chaotic cycle of consuming, releasing, and having to consume again as items bounce across your environment in defiance.

The game is remarkably insistent on contorting its own level design as it progresses forward, making room for Arkanoid tributes, tennis volleys that players must interrupt, and other destructive endeavors. Better yet, the surprisingly prominent variety in-game directly translates over to its level maker, opening up endless opportunity to produce concise challenges to blitz through. Pig Eat Ball cleverly turns the tried-and-true Pac-Man play mechanics into an exciting twitch puzzler that I could not get enough of. If playing the platonic ideal of Pacxon appeals to you, you owe it a try.

Return of the Obra Dinn

No other game this year felt as unprecedented as Return of the Obra Dinn; a logic puzzler dropping you directly in the midst of a ravaged merchant ship and crew, forcing you to live through an inverse timeline of the events to discern what possibly could have happened. Bearing witness to murder, disease, and general atrocity, you must identify the victims of these cruel fates (often victims to each other) and the connections between them. The tandem visual aesthetic is dour but eye-catching, greyscale stills that players alone move around as if they have found themselves a part of a sketchbook.

Return of the Obra Dinn design thrives on paradox. It’s a slow burner that constantly shocks as fates turn crueler. Its minimalist color scheme belies environment detail integral to player revelations. Details are withheld from players requiring their inference to take precedent, but it never feels obtuse and this ambiguity frees players up to experiment with their observations. The game never outpaces your understanding of events (only progressing when you have successfully pinned down three identities at a point in the timeline) and makes every successful lead a moment of catharsis. The seas may be sorrowful, but Obra Dinn rewards you for taking the plunge with an experience that defies comparison.

The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories

Few experiences are more rewarding than playing a game whose mechanics directly interact with its narrative. Games where neither component takes a backseat to the other and each only fully comes into focus due to the presence of the other. The Missing is about self-harm on the face of it (and ultimately much more as you play through it), and is an intricate character study that develops alongside player discovery. It’s a puzzle-platformer whose landscapes are presented like a diorama, a shrine to damaged Americana (abandoned diners and bowling alleys) engulfed by sprawling forestation. J.J. Macfield is alone and seized with anguish, immediately chalked up to a missing partner but given increased context as players collect donuts (maybe the only truly quaint imagery in the game).

The internal battle truly tearing Macfield apart is made apparent through text conversations appearing in her phone as players solve reaching each collectable. These collectables and the tandem exposition are wholly optional, merely expanding the depth of an already resonant story told through the primary gameplay. Traversal puzzles are the crux of The Missing’s gameplay, redefined by the necessity for Macfield to tear herself apart limb from limb in order to travel further. This mechanic impacts gameplay and narrative alike with stunning poignancy, removed from the mere shock value its presence would imply.

The Missing is a disturbing title, in its reflection of isolation and uncanny symbolism, bolstered by innovative gameplay mechanics that double as a catalyst for satisfying progression. By the time it fully unveils its focus on speaking to marginalized groups (kept cryptic here for the sake of avoiding spoilers), The Missing has revealed itself as an experience that offers something special in every facet, even as it puts to use influence from Limbo and Twin Peaks alike. No game struck a chord with me in 2018 from top-to-bottom like The Missing did, and it along with the other games listed here deserve whatever attention you can give them.

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4A Games and Deep Silver have released a new story trailer for the upcoming apocalyptic first-person shooter, Metro Exodus. The game takes place 25 years after a nuclear war that destroys most of the population and focuses on a group of survivors living in the Metro tunnels somewhere in Russia. This trailer takes you through portions of the year-long journey in the eyes of Anna, the Spartan Order’s top sniper, and main protagonists wife. See Trailer Below.

Metro Exodus - Story Trailer [Official] - YouTube

Artyom, Anna, and the remaining Spartan Order search for life outside of Russia, all while enduring the dangers of mutated beasts and paranormal horrors that have littered the landscape of post-nuclear Russia. The game features “deadly combat and stealth with exploration and survival horror in one of the most immersive game worlds ever created.”, per Deep Silver.

With Metro Exodus gearing up to a full release on Feb. 15, Deep Silver and Microsoft announce the Xbox One X Metro Saga Bundle. The bundle features a  1TB Xbox One X Console and all three Metro games; Metro 2033 Redux, Metro: Last Light Redux and the upcoming Metro Exodus.  The Metro Saga Bundle is available for Pre-order now.

Look forward to more information and gameplay trailers leading up to the full release of Metro Exodus on Feb 15.

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Well, with a heavy sigh of relief attached to it, 2018 is over.

Gaming-wise, when celebrities weren’t trying to be relate-able by mentioning Fortnite, the year was filled with all sorts of good games. In fact, one might go so far as to say it was better than 2017 for games, and 2017 was bloody huge. With this in mind, we have found it appropriate to pay attention to the little guys in the independent scene.

Spread across two parts will be ten games that me and fellow writer, Zachary Kauz, feel showcased the best of indie gaming in 2018, with the exception of Matt Makes Games’ magnum opus, Celeste, with the reason being that Celeste is the only indie title good enough to see it to the normal Game of The Year list. The only rules in play are that their first releases had to have been this year, and they’ve been reviewed by us at Sick Critic. With that in mind, here are three honorable mentions that couldn’t make the cut for one reason or another.

Honorable Mention: Subnautica – Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment

The first honorable mention goes to Subnautica, the underwater survival simulator that made this cynical world fall in love with “early access survival sim crafting system” games once more. With a brilliantly executed spin of the formula, an atmosphere that’s both comfortable and terrifying, and a narrative that keeps you intrigued throughout, it’s dead set to be on anybody Game of The Year list, let alone an “Indie” section. So why is it here?

One simple answer: I’m crap at it. Aside from having a paralyzing fear of the ocean, the amazingly dense world of Subnautica is one you need to devote full time to, and that’s the time I simply didn’t have before this list was curated. Nevertheless, Subnautica is the best survival crafting game released since Terraria, and it’s worth a playthrough no matter what.

Honorable Mention: Forgotton Anne – Developer: ThroughLine Games

The next honorable mention goes to Forgotton Anne, one of several titles Square Enix’s “Collective” program, which has been pushing out several unique titles over the past two years (Another one of which is in this list, wink wink). Forgotton Anne’s best quality is quite easily its anime-influenced animation, which translates quite smoothly to casual platforming. Aside from that, the meat of this meal comes from an interesting narrative revolving around the idea of forgotten household items and clothing, leading to an adventure brimming with creativity.

Why is it here? Well, it’s good, but it’s not as good as other titles on this list. Forgotton Anne is a game that misses being called a “walking simulator” by a fraction of an inch, with a lot of moments simply being you looking at some of the wonderful vistas on offer. It has memorable characters, smart but fleeting puzzle design, and visual design that’ll make it memorable, but as a game? It’s fairly lacking, yet it’s still worth mentioning and putting it onto this list for the visual presentation alone.

Honorable Mention: GRIS – Developer: Nomada Studio

Now, our own Nathanael Hueso would consider it blasphemy and curse on bloodlines for not including the recently released GRIS on this list in some way, shape or form. However, it didn’t get reviewed, so here he is explaining why it’s so bloody good while it stays on the honorable mention list:-

GRIS doesn’t necessarily try anything groundbreaking with its gameplay or art style. What it succeeds so well in doing is taking established ideas and using them to prod at you emotionally. This game awakens something deep, maybe even something spiritual, that you didn’t know you had locked away.

Relegating GRIS to the genre of hand-drawn platformer robs the game of its spirit. If you finish GRIS and feel nothing, you walked into it with the wrong expectations. Go into GRIS looking for an experience, not a simple game. Even if you don’t end up a huge fan, at least you experienced this beautiful work of art.

Right, onto the winners! Here’s five of them.

Vesta – Developer: FinalBoss Games

This year started off on a strong note with Vesta, the sophomore release from Spanish studio FinalBoss Games. Following the story of a 6-year old girl with an eye for exploration who is paired with a robot named DROID to do all the hard work for her, the puzzles simple yet smart design provided a solid and cute journey, along with having some well-done pacing.

If there’s one complaint that can hamper your experience, it’s the dull aesthetic, which can lessen the strong tone and atmosphere the game set up in the vein of Portal. Other than that, you had puzzles that made you feel good, a soundtrack that fit perfectly with the vibes the game gave off, and gimmicky boss fights that weren’t a complete pain in the arse. Stellar stuff all around.

Minit – Developer(s): JW, Kitty, Jukio, and Dom

The more you think about your experience with Minit, the deceptive adventure game from what seems like the game developer equivalent of rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, the more wholesome your thoughts become. Faced with the seemingly impossible task of making a Groundhog Day mechanic not awful, the four-person team pulled through to the end to create an experience of flip-flopping atmospheres and comedic timing.

It’s the achievement of making every microscopic moment worth experiencing that makes Minit such a fantastic game. Regardless of how janky the gameplay can be, JW and co. paid attention to the finer details throughout, from characters to new areas, to the jaunty little tunes Jukio created for all areas. With that in mind, some of the gameplay can be overlooked, and JW, Jukio, Kitty, and Dom can be commended for making a game that lasts less than an hour in length radiate in players memories for so long.

Octahedron – Developer: Demimonde

Just like Celeste, Demimonde’s Octahedron is an old-school platformer subscribing to a specific trend, but with an emphasis on one mechanic in particular. In Celeste, it was the dash, and in Octahedron, it’s the power to create a platform underneath your feet at the apex of your jump. Add a few bells and whistles to it, and you get the platforming equivalent of finding a tin of all your favorite Quality Street chocolates, and there’s not a single Toffee Penny in sight.

Set to a mesmerizing synth aesthetic that somehow feels fresh in this age of overdone Blood Dragon knock-offs, along with a fantastic soundtrack by chiptune artist Chipzel, everything goes right for this title. Sure, it may seem like originality wears thin once you get past World 5, but it’s the journey you’re taken on before then that makes the trip worthwhile. It’s just a really nice platformer with a really forgiving difficulty curve, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice by avoiding it.

Ashen – Developer: Aurora44 (A44)

“Better late than never” is a motto that’s gotten me through everything in life, and even though it’s just barely scraped past the deadline for this list, that doesn’t lessen the blow that Souls-like Ashen gave players. With beefy combat, a beautiful aesthetic and vibe flourishing from it, and a narrative focusing on a community effort, nothing could stop this from being the best Souls-like money can buy at the moment.

As stated in the review, the one thing most heartbreaking about Ashen is that it misses mere perfection by inches. There’s something about the elements, the formula, the fury and fire– It simply never clicks properly. Regardless, Ashen is still an enticing experience, and if you’re sick to death of half-baked Souls clones littering your hard drives and game libraries, then this will surely be a breath of fresh air to you.

Dead Cells – Developer: Motion Twin

For the final entry in this list of five, it was a no-brainer: Dead Cells, the 2D tribute to Dark Souls which feels more like a tribute to Final Fight, than anything else. That’s not a bad thing though, absolutely not, as it simply means that Dead Cells holds more cathartic action and beat ’em up flavor in its gameplay than anything else out there, and for that alone, it deserves endless praise.

With murky yet beautiful pixel art, a soundtrack that gets you more than pumped up, and combat more refreshing and gratifying than finding out your worst enemy stepped on a plug this morning, there’s barely a bum note hit throughout your time on the endlessly shifting island of Dead Cells. Go visit it, go experiment with the tens of weapons the game houses, go seek out the small handful of masterfully crafted bosses, it’s all waiting for you.

To Be Continued…

For now, those are five of our Independent GOTY picks, along with three that missed the cut by an inch. Stay on the lookout for part two of this list, where fellow snob Zachary Kauz will list another five games that deserve to be a part of this list. From there, we’ll have a recap of what happened in 2018, and finally, we’ll look towards the future, with a showcasing of fifteen games set to arrive in 2019.

Bye-bye for now.

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We’ve reported on Sony expanding their first-party support multiple times, with our PlayStation 2018 review and our initial coverage of Sony’s corporate restructuring. Now it looks like Sony Interactive Entertainment is making moves just by glancing at their “Careers” page in the official PlayStation website. Under game development, there are 30 applications for Sony Santa Monica, which has undergone a massive hiring spree after the launch of God of War. It’s also worth noting the bulk of the God of War team is apparently still working in Santa Monica, so this is significantly expanding the team of 200 people. That’s not all the activity happening at Sony, as two other developers are experiencing expansion.

As you may have heard, Guerrilla Games recently moved to a new office that houses a twice-as-large staff than the Horizon: Zero Dawn team and, as expected, Guerrilla is also hiring like mad. Lots of developers from Ubisoft have joined Guerrilla, their portfolio ranges from Watch_Dogs 2 to Rainbow Six: Siege. An animator from Watch_Dogs 2 is working on an unnamed open-world game (gee, I wonder what that could be) and a developer from R6S is working on a game with an emphasis on multi-player. The latter game in question is assumed to be a first-person shooter as they hired talent who have experience in that genre for that project. Both projects are still operating on Guerrilla’s own Decima engine, so it’s likely that that engine would carry over to Sony’s next PlayStation.

We’ll get into more about Guerrilla in a second, but first, there’s interesting activity happening in San Diego. San Diego Studio is primarily known for their MLB The Show series, however, Sony might be changing that. In the Greater San Diego area, Sony’s looking for developers who are willing to work on a “3rd-person action-adventure game” designed with the promise of delivering the “next chapter in cinematic storytelling”. Yup, that sounds very specific from Sony. Joking aside, what makes this interesting is the three things: the collaborating teams, the philosophy, and the location. This project is being worked on in conjunction with Sony’s Visual Arts Service Group, who helped with most of Sony’s major titles, and an unnamed Sony studio.

Fans have speculated that this studio is Naughty Dog, but they’re located in Santa Monica, not San Diego. Could it be San Diego Studio? Perhaps, but why is this development team separate from San Diego Studio? The ambiguity of the collaborating team and the fact that the official San Diego Studio page lists no such openings implies that this is a brand-new studio. Some Naughty Dog alumni have been hired by this unnamed team, so that’s potentially evidence that Naughty Dog is helping with development. However, they would be locked in on finishing The Last of Us Part II, right? Ultimately, what this team is working with and if this team is establishing a new studio under Sony’s first-party is primarily speculation and theories on the part of the gaming community.

One thing that’s fascinating to me about this studio is the philosophy behind this unannounced project. For the Senior Gameplay Animator opening, the listing reads emphasize the scope of this project: “This high visibility project is being developed in collaboration with a major Sony development studio. Though currently unannounced, we have a clear vision and plan to release. The new game development team will leverage our existing expertise and premier talent, guaranteeing a high visual quality bar for the title.” Sony wants this project to be of the utmost quality. This is such a huge project that utilizes both veteran and newcomer talent of the publisher. The fact they have a plan for release and emphasize on visual fidelity might indicate this is a PlayStation 5 launch title. However, that’s just speculation on my part.

So, to summarize, there’s a huge expansion happening over at Santa Monica Studio, Guerrilla Games is doubling in size and working on two projects (one an open-world title, the other a multi-player game that might be an FPS), and a new team that’s working on an unannounced AAA game that aspires to showcase the best of the best from Sony. These three developments are likely just scratching the surface, but what we’re seeing right now is pretty big. Guerrilla is becoming two-team, Santa Monica appears to be shifting towards a multi-team studio, and Sony appears to be answering to Microsoft’s The Initiative team. If everything works in Sony’s favor, the output from Santa Monica and Guerrilla Games would double and a new major AAA studio would emerge just in time for next-gen.

Now, Sony has a lot more developers than just those three, so who else could receive extensions? I think it’s logical to think Naughty Dog will be multiplied after The Last of Us Part II since that’s Sony’s biggest studio. If Ghost of Tsushima and Days Gone end up blockbuster hits, Sucker Punch and Bend Studio would both get bolstered. In fact, Bend Studio is hiring for a new IP and it’s not called Days Gone. However, that project is possibly very far out as Days Gone has yet to launch. Polyphony Digital is starting to outsource their work and opened a third office to speed up development and I imagine PixelOpus is much larger with Concrete Genie being a more ambitious project than Entwined (Remember that game?). However, PixelOpus hasn’t quite defined itself as a respectable team like Santa Monica just yet. Hopefully, Team Asobi can work on Astro Bot Rescue Mission 2 as that game is a goddamn masterpiece.

Ultimately, what we know of right now appears to be just the beginning of Sony’s first-party enhancement. They could inflate their most successful studios only or double or triple down on all of their studios and possibly acquire some studios. Insomniac? Quantic Dream? Bluepoint? Who knows? With the VP of Marketing in PlayStation UK claiming players demand great single-player games and Sony refusing to allow the World War Z dev to implement a multi-player mode in Days Gone, it’s pretty clear that Sony’s strategy strongly favors single-player games and opposes games-as-a-service type games. It makes sense, too, as their latest single-player games have become the fastest selling games they’ve ever published, with God of War and Spider-Man.

An increasingly more common criticism with Sony’s first-party output is that the quantity can be rather shallow, despite quality significantly increasing after each release. With the PS5 seemingly around the corner and Microsoft entering the first-party surge in over half a dozen studio acquisitions, Sony wouldn’t be wise to rest on their laurels as the PS4 continues to sell exceptionally well. They need to build a stronger first-party stronghold and the latest developments we’re seeing at the very beginning of 2019 looks pretty damn promising to me. This is a calm-before-the-storm situation and many people believe that storm will arrive by the end of 2019. All we can do in the meantime is wait and enjoy the games arriving beforehand such as Days Gone and Dreams.

What do you think about the recent surge in hirings from Sony? Could this be enough to prepare for Microsoft’s newly-expanded first-party during the next-generation? Are you hyped to see whatever this conspicuous AAA game from San Diego could be? Please let us know in the comments below and stay tuned for more news and analysis pieces like this one from Sick Critic!

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If you’re educated about the Danganronpa series (or Japanese visual novel games in general), it’s clear that the story wants to entertain the player every step of the way by throwing countless twists and turns. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is no exception. It doesn’t play by the rules, even rules it created. Danganronpa 2 has the wildest fantasies of any game I’ve played (then again, I don’t play that many Japanese games), but I’ve still managed to deeply care about what happens to these characters and who will die next. Fans of the series claim this is the strongest entry in the series in terms of narrative and characters. That being said, I can wholeheartedly declare this as a superior successor to the first game in basically every way.

Fair warning: I will cover some spoilers of the first game, so I’d recommend you either play that first or at least watch some YouTube videos that cover the things I’ll talk about here.

The colorful cast of characters count one higher than the first game with 16 students, eight boys and eight girls. It’s important that you play the first game before this one as there are tons of allusions of the previous game. Makoto Naegi, the protagonist in the first game, didn’t really leave an impact on the story or have much of a personality, which weakened him as a character to associate with for the entirety of the game. Hajime Hinata not only is much more animated as a character, but also has a really interesting mystery to him. For one, he has no Ultimate Talent he could recall of, whereas the rest of the cast can easily remember it. He also houses the ability to summon answers from the most difficult questions via mini-games during class trial. Nagito Komaeda, the first person you meet on Jabberwock Island (the setting of the game), loses his mind after the first case and becomes some sort of massive trickster that fools the cast during the class trials.

Chiaki Nanami, the Ultimate Gamer, instantaneously becomes the most helpful contributor during the class trials and brings logic into the most despairing moments of the class. She also happens to be the best character in the game due to the close relationship you develop with her throughout the story, the fact that she’s a gamer who suddenly sleeps a lot., and is also one of the most important characters to the story, so definitely pay attention to scenes with her in it. Did I also mention she’s the best? Yeah, she’s the best. She deserves her own game like Toko Fukawa, by the way. Anyway, moving on.

Other characters in the ensemble include Peko Pekoyama, the Ultimate Swordswoman; Mikan Tsumiki, the Ultimate Nurse; Fuyuhiko Kuzuryu, the Ultimate Yakuza, and no he doesn’t have 18 games based on him. Nearly all characters have a remarkable twist to them and they leave a massive impact onto the story. My only gripe is that some characters have no ulterior motives waiting to be unveiled, such as Sonia Nevermind, who’s a foreign exchange student and a literal princess of her own European kingdom. There’s so much you could do with that character and it’s a shame the story kept her and Kazuichi Soda in a never-to-be romance. However, there are some funny moments between them.

During the second chapter, a handful of female characters come into a diner wearing rather revealing bikinis, making the male characters swoon. Soda was hoping that Nevermind was going to be in a similarly attractive outfit, but she arrives in a very concealing diver suit. Thankfully, Soda was happy her clothes were skin-tight. One cool thing I like about the class trials in DR2 is that a lot of what characters say is documented during trial debates. No longer are there random pieces of evidence that spring up in an attempt to spice things up during the class trials. As a result of more natural sources of information, the debates feel more organic and sometimes draw similarities to Twelve Angry Men when an outrageous argument gradually becomes logical and shifts the quarrel between the surviving students. Expect the unexpected when it comes to finding out who the murderer is.

Similarly to the predecessor, the class trials end by a brief exchange with the killer and why he or she decided to brutally murder the victim. Most of the time their motivations behind their actions causes you to sympathize with the killer and understand them better. Sometimes the death of a student devastates another and permanently scars them for the rest of the game. Unknown relationships and histories reveal themselves at the conclusion and it often pains to see them be executed by Monokuma. The story effectively immortalizes the dead with Hajime and his peers longing to see the lost ones again and pondering what they would do in certain situations they encounter. These characters feel so much more alive and some tragic moments that occur can linger in your mind. Of course, it wouldn’t make you cry, but Danganronpa 2 manages to leave a formidable impact on someone who’s engaged in the story, and that alone is an achievement in a game’s narrative.  

As far as visual novels go, Danganronpa continues the tradition of being the more gameplay-oriented series in the genre, especially during class trials. There are several new mini-games in class trials. My personal favorite of which being Logic Dives, where a Hajime figure snowboards through a tunnel avoiding obstacles and pit while answering some quizzing questions. Hangman’s Gambit has underwent a facelift, now letting the player combine matching letters and shooting it into the blank spaces. This mode can be a little too long when mismatching letters keep colliding and the cursor moves too slowly to prevent the collision. I would say that would be my least favorite mini-game if it not were for Rebuttal Showdowns.

On a Dualshock 4, the controls are not that intuitive at all, with the analog stick acting as the sword that cuts through statements. That’s also ignoring the fact that you have limited arsenal, and when you miss one too many, you’re shit out of luck. Looking for the right Truth Blade that cuts through the contradiction is also a little flimsy as you have to juggle with the left and right bumpers and keep slashing through the statements. Ultimately, I prefer Nonstop Debates, which have some additional twists. For one, you always have a fully loaded gun with six Truth Bullets, instead of starting out with one and then slowly building up to six. Perhaps this is due to Spike Chunsoft relying on players being familiar to the game’s mechanics. You can also agree to some statements, creating a Consent reaction instead of a Counter. I’m surprised no one made any sex jokes from that. They work the same way as finding contradictions, but it’s nice to see the debates feel more genuine.

I seriously want to discuss the music because it is so freaking good in DR2. It’s the same composer as the last game, Masafumi Takada, and while the soundtrack recycles some old songs, the overall intensity and absurdity in the melody is still very present. They’re long enough to not sound too repetitive and catchy enough for you to sit around to embrace the jam. This is definitely music I would place in my top placement lists. Even though some tracks play a lot more frequently than others, I never get tired of them. The percussive nature of during intense moments and the somber atmosphere of tragic outcomes are beautifully orchestrated into the music. They perfectly fit the emotion of the narrative and amplify the sudden revelations. Also the songs that play during the Executions are all quite good. I’d definitely put this on a YouTube playlist during study sessions.

As this is a visual novel, the writing is key to maintain an enjoyable gaming experience, and Danganronpa 2 significantly improved from the predecessor. Most of the characters have their own mysteries waiting to be uncovered. Talking to characters gives you an insight into their own struggles and history (prior to their memory being wiped). Each time a case ends, a new island is opened up, which becomes the setting of the next murder. The new locations you find each serve a purpose and even the tiniest details become the largest revelations during Class Trials. Monokuma of course adds some spice by adding motives to encourage more killings, just like the previous ones. Without spoiling too much, there is some sort of pattern behind each killings in that it reflects those of Trigger Happy Havoc. However, the game does away with that retreading and gives an incredible climactic final case.

The fifth and sixth case deliver such a transformative twist in the game. When the game revealed the victim in the fifth case, my jaw hit the floor. A big gripe I had with the first game is that it threw too much at you in regards to the story in the final case, thus leaving a lot of open gaps in the narrative. Thankfully, not only does the sixth case clearly answer every new revelation it hurls at you in a very long cutscene, but it also clears up previous questions from the last game. The English voice cast truly shine in the final Class Trial, especially Johnny Yong Bosch (a very familiar name to anime fans) who voiced Hajime Hinata. The English voice cast in general did an excellent job. Christine Marie Cabanos (Chiaki), Wendee Lee (Akane), Kotono Mitsuishi (Peko Pekoyama), Brian Beacock (reprising his role as Monokuma), Chris Tergliafera (Gundham Tanaka), and Erin Fitzgerald (name redacted due to spoilers) all perfectly fit their characters and their talent is very recognizable in the anime world.

While Danganronpa 2 is substantially longer than the predecessor, making it over the 30 hour mark, I didn’t feel like it overstayed its welcome. In fact, I wanted it to keep going. You can continue to communicate with the cast after you beat it in Island Life mode and learn more about what the hell happened with the ending in a short novel you can read, but Danganronpa 2 did more than have some neat ideas, it established an overarching universe. Recurring allies and enemies and new entities and organizations help give the story and lore much needed depth, unlike Trigger Happy Havoc having a “the world sucks, man” message. Danganronpa ultimately evolved into a franchise I want to learn more about.

There is so much more I can gush about in Goodbye Despair. The character designs, the improved visuals, the wealth of content and rewards of completionism, the meta-humor and fourth-wall shattering, a plot that uses nonsense to say something intelligent. Visual novel game enthusiasts would say Steins;Gate (another Spike Chunsoft game) and  428: Shibuya Scramble are superior games than Danganronpa, but it’s hard for me to ignore the quality of the Danganronpa series from the first two games. I love the characters, the villains, the music, the themes, the art style, and the strong following the series garnered when it reached the West. I’m happy to be joining the ride and hope to see a fourth entry in the series soon.

I’m giving Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair a(n unofficial) 9/10. The 1-2 Reload is on sale on PSN, so I would jump on that while you have the chance.

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God, so many good games were released in 2018.

Alright, maybe not good. Unique at best. Alright, maybe not unique. Cynical at best… or just shit. Look, the point is that a lot of games were released as usual, and we haven’t had enough time or patience to cover all of them, and that’s what The Indie Investigation is for: To catch up on the releases that slipped between our grubby fingers.

In this particular installment, me and fellow writer Zachary Kauz will be looking at titles that we may have missed out, and see whether they’re worth talking about to some extent. We’ve got it all! Excessive overeating! Murders on a ship! Robots, explosions, and Tarantino! It’s like the world’s worst Robert Rodriguez film! Let’s not waste any more time, and get into it.

Pig Eat Ball – Waka Waka Waka – Dev: Mommy’s Best Games

Platform(s): PC

With Pac-Man mostly tucked aside as a legacy act, it’s a pleasure to have a developer take his basic playstyle and furiously contort it the way Mommy’s Best Games have. It’s a trite comparison in of itself, given only because Pig Eat Ball is too unique for comparison beyond its basic structure. The game forces players to constantly alter their approach to the frantic pursuit of pellets.

Where Pac-Man seems to be a mere void where pellets lose any form of matter as soon as he ingests them, pellets stack up in Pig Eat Ball and increase the player’s size. This requires you to strategically barf them to improve your speed and progress through certain corridors. Pig Eat Ball’s irreverent tone is reminiscent of a known Indie game archetype. In fact, if Pig Eat Ball was a living entity it would search for fleeting Puck Man machines worldwide just to scratch the P out. It retains the demeanor of Newgrounds era titles like Alien Hominid with its presentation relying on the simple joy of lobbing as many visual non-sequiturs at players over anything else.

Yet amidst all the absurd imagery establishing Pig Eat Ball as a Nathan Fouts game, there is a present need for players to calculate their approach to each level. Each bite-sized stage offers compulsive replay value for the sake of improving your time, and they range from blatant Pac-Man pastiches to odd Arkanoid revisions to chaotic collectathons that don’t compare to much else. Pig Eat Ball’s core gameplay is versatile enough to open up freedom in level design, translated over to players through the presence of a level editor expanding replay value twofold.

Pig Eat Ball is another refinement of the instant gratification retro revival titles can offer, with just enough innovation present to rejuvenate deceptively simple mechanics. Its microdose level size allows each new mechanic introduced across its 8-hour campaign to immediately make an impression. If you’re in the mood for a collectathon that’s just as substantial as it is immediate, Pig Eat Ball is your game.

Score: 8/10 Return of The Obra Dinn – The Cary Meleste – Dev: Lucas Pope

Platform(s): PC

Step into the sketchbooks of a murder scene! Relative even to the storybook qualities mystery games retain, Return of the Obra Dinn looks and feels the part. Designed top to bottom in 1-bit monochrome, the title derives a lot of character from its idiosyncratic visual design. The briny tint dominating landscapes impresses itself on players instantaneously through its fixed first-person perspective. It’s as if players are playing the game on the world’s most sophisticated TI-84.

The game requires you to reverse engineer the fates of a gaggle of disgraced sailors. Memories unfold in reverse as you piece them together in your notebook, initially deprived of sailor names and how they possibly could have ended up in their sorry circumstances. Return of the Obra Dinn capitalizes on players never quite knowing what they’re in for, eager to shock and confuse players initially before allowing them to piece together the dire situation.

Obra Dinn masterfully strikes a balance between providing information to players on its own terms and offering intuitive constraints to make players draw their own illuminating conclusions. The ongoing mystery is partitioned off into sections of a timeline, only progressing further when players have identified three sailors and their attachment to the crew’s demise.

Not every answer is concrete forcing players to gamble with their decisions for the sake of speculation. There’s a constantly hanging sense of indecision reigning over players reflecting a conglomerate lost to history and a nervous historian furiously documenting it from a distance.

Obra Dinn can be a nerve-wracking game to play, but there’s always a sense of satisfaction brought by progression, a similar duality to Lucas Pope’s preceding effort Papers Please. Committing to a piece of identification sparks the brain and encourages players to wade into choppier waters. An internal form of psychological horror is brought about by the dark mystique that gradually unfolds across Obra Dinn. An eerie logic puzzle that engrosses for the entirety of its methodical journey.

Score: 8.5/10 Milanoir – Pulp Friction – Dev: Italo Games

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch

I have absolutely no idea how to intro or segue into this, so let’s just get talking about Milanoir, a shooter so Italian that every word that comes out of the characters mouth turns into a stromboli in mid-air. Controlling the likes of Piero through a kinda top-down camera overlooking the cozy streets of Milan, you’ll be blasting your way through various low-level thugs, all in the theme of a 70s Italian action movie.

Weirdly enough, Milanoir reminds me most of Wheels of Auerelia, a weird 15-minutes-a-pop choose-your-own-adventure game that went by faster than you could appreciate it. Milanoir almost works in the same fashion, except it’s because the flow of gameplay is actually faster than what the game makes you think it is.

Gameplay on consoles work like this: You use the right stick to manually aim a wavering pointer around the screen, which never automatically aims at anything unless it’s a sign that can ricochet bullets to instantly kill enemies. It’s frustratingly difficult trying to keep a bead on all the enemies in an arena, or at least, it would be if you realized that the game doesn’t tell you that you can automatically lock on to any enemy in your line of sight.

This turns every single battle in the game into a pathetically easy chore, even the bosses, in all their gimmicky glory. That only leaves us with the story to dwell on, and truth be told, it isn’t that interesting. Piero is an unfathomably annoying character to control, and not just for the actions he takes part in throughout the story. He’s obnoxious and brash, and by the end of it all, he’s still obnoxious and brash, learning nothing from the horrors he’s committed.

In the end, I won’t say that Milanoir is a bad experience, it just feels lacking in places where it shouldn’t be lacking. The combat becomes trivial as soon as you realize that you can lock on to everything with a button press, Piero is just a prick to play as and watch, and the story has the pacing of an OAP trying to take a piss. Sorry Italo Games. I won’t deny that you tried.

Score: 5/10 Lazy Galaxy: Rebel Story – Pass Effect – Dev: Coldwind Games

Platform(s): Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch

Next on the list is a title closer to home, the bullet hell shooter from Latvian developer Coldwind Games. In it, you control the long-inactive robot H-34-RT, who after a long time in maintenance hibernation, wakes up to find the civilization that created him has been wiped out by the O’Xelg. Stunned by the news, he quickly overcomes it and decides to take the fight to the O’Xelg, along with a few former P.O.W’s helping him out as well.

Gameplay is quite similar– Along with being directly inspired by– Steredenn, a recent bullet hell rogue-like that was bloody great, and while it’s fine to be directly inspired by a certain game, what’s confusing is that I don’t know where the comparisons lie. I mean yeah, there’s the one item you’re allowed to pick after every boss, but aside from that, the inspiration is hard to see.

Levels feel like Steredenn-lite, but there’s never any truly outrageous sh’m’up battles taking place. The gimmick revolves around building a three-man team out of the prisoners you free in-game, but you don’t have a choice as to who you free, nor do you have any insight as to what they can provide for your team. From there, you can choose a formation from your team: A long target with concentrated fire, or a wide target with a more spread-out attack., with the former being the objectively better choice.

Lazy Galaxy: Rebel Story isn’t too taxing, but then it’s never enveloping either. It’s always these rudimentary clashes that end far too quickly since H-34-RT and his buddies have more HP than I have cups of tea in a week. Even if you lose all three of your guys at any stage, you can just restart the game immediately from where you left off with H-34-RT and two new guys at any stage, so the lack of agency is absurd.

There’s nothing inherently terrible about what Rebel Story sets out to do, it’s just that there’s nothing immediately riveting about the experience it gives the player. You’re in and you’re out in less than two hours, and whatever rogue-like implementations there are in-game is too small or trivial to waste repeat playthroughs trying to find. If you’re desperately looking for a new sh’m’up to play, then by all means, pick this up, but don’t expect anything that’ll grab you by the throat.

Score: 5.5/10 Dimension Drive – Split Hairs – Dev: 2Awesome Studio

Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

Finally, a game that didn’t technically get originally released in 2018, but something I wanted to talk about anyway: Dimension Drive! A split-screen sh’m’u’p where you control both screens at the same time for maximum score! The plot’s pretty generic, it’s just aliens being aliens as per, so instead, let’s talk about the gimmick.

You have a ship on the left side, which you use to eliminate any ships trying to destroy you first, but there’s also a tunnel on the right which you can shift into at any time, which will also house enemy ships. What this turns into is a hectic eye-challenging affair where you constantly have to switch focus on lanes to make sure that as well as eliminating everything in sight, you also don’t spawn into a wall or hail of bullets.

It’s fun as hell! It’s really, really bloody difficult due to there being two different games of DoDonPachi going on at the same time, but it’s still really fun. Full attention has been paid to the mechanic of Dimension shifting, and how said mechanic can interact with levels and enemy placements. Eternal proof that sometimes, procedural generation of enemies isn’t how you make a game constantly exciting.

That being said, it would’ve been nice to see the heat turned down for some levels. The stages where they employ gimmicks with the level design is fine, but the constant running back to a mini-boss with an unavoidable laser does take the piss. These types of mini-bosses feel like the game is collectively shrugging its shoulders and giving up, and it’s a pain to see.

Visually, it’s a bit drab as well. There’s nothing wrong with the old space-age aesthetic, but there’s no life to any of it all. It all feels truly two-dimensional, and not in the obvious ways either. Environments look so boring, and blend into the background more often than you’d think. Nevertheless, these are small blemishes on what is an exception twist on the sh’m’up formula, and I look forward to seeing what else 2Awesome Studio have in store for players.

Score:- 7.5/10

With this Indie Investigation out of the way, that means that almost all of 2018 has been documented and talked about. Now we only have to wait and see what 2019 will bring, and with the 1st of January on the horizon, we look forward to whatever developers will bring to the tab– What do you mean it’s the 3rd of January already?

The reviews of Pig Eat Ball and Return of The Obra Dinn were based on their PC versions. The reviews of Milanoir, Lazy Galaxy: Rebel Story, and Dimension Drive were based on their Xbox One Versions. 

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2018 has done it again with a hugely varied and high-quality number of video game releases. The Sick Critic staff has spent the last few weeks casting votes on their favorite games in several categories, including game of the year. You’ll find the winners, why they won, and a runner-up and honorable mention for each category. Who won game of the year? Keep reading to find out.

Best Visuals: Red Dead Redemption II

Why it won: Red Dead Redemption 2 encapsulates beauty, whether playing at a native 4k on Xbox One X or 1080p on PlayStation 4. Rockstar has developed a technical masterpiece with their latest installment of the series, pushing the boundaries for what was expected in graphical capabilities. While scaling vast mountain ranges, bustling cities, or the dense forests throughout the game, you will want to stop to soak in the high level of detail that Rockstar has managed to produce. Running on Rockstar’s iconic RAGE engine, Red Dead Redemption 2 seems to have solved some age-old problems in their open worlds, while raising the bar for everyone else. The inclusion of temporal anti-aliasing, adding volumetric and variable weather changes to sky rendering, and several smaller but well-defined systems complement each other to bring you an immersive experience of the Wild West. This is by far the best-looking game of the year and will likely remain so until Rockstar’s next project. – Devin (Publisher of Sick Critic)

Runner-Up: God of War

Honorable Mention: Forza Horizon 4

Best Original Soundtrack: Celeste

Why it won: This was the first soundtrack I heard from Lena Raine, and man did it make me want to listen to more of her stuff. Celeste’s soundtrack strikes the balance between varied and cohesive, having a variety of styles and instruments tied together by similar tones and motifs. The sheer quality of it, oh man. Raine is incredibly talented, and the melodies she creates perfectly match the tone of whatever level you find yourself in, be it the mysterious temple or the derelict hotel or the intense showdown at the end of the game’s second act.

She also makes great uses of samples and leitmotifs, like one of the songs using the same tone as protagonist Madeline’s “panic” text scroll noise. Songs will also sample each other, taking melodies and incorporating them into different tracks, making them sound completely different. Of course, Raine wasn’t afraid to get the soundtrack out of its comfort zone with songs like “Confronting Myself,” which is radically different than the rest of the soundtrack but by no means sounds like it doesn’t belong.

Also, holy shit, “Reach for the Summit.” As soon as the song starts it feels like it’s lifting you up, grabbing you by the hand and taking you running. Seconds in, it already cements itself as the perfect “final area” theme and only gets better from there. The final area is split into sections, and the song changes to match each one without losing the sense of inspiration and encouragement. It’s probably my favorite song of the year, period. I love it that much. – Max (Senior Editor)

Runner-Up: God of War

Honorable Mentions: Octopath Traveller, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Best Multiplayer: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Why it won: I maintain a firm stance in the undeniable importance of a multiplayer experience, and this importance has been proven time and time again with best-selling lists throughout the decades. However, cases like that of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate come as a rarity. A game that lives or dies on its multiplayer often has trouble making an impact on the industry of Ultimate’s caliber. I could discuss every nook and cranny of this game, but many of them would have nothing to do with the true reason that no other multiplayer game could outpace it. In Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, everyone is here: Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, friends, and estranged cousins, and I’m not talking about their Miis. This truly is the game for anybody. With the diversity of the characters, it’s possible for anybody to pick up the controller and give it a try. The adjustable AI perfectly holds the hands of beginners and challenges more than its fair share of seasoned veterans. The controls, while still a little challenging to get the hang of for someone new, put all other fighting games to shame. This game truly has a very deliberate polish to it that so many other games sorely miss, especially all other multiplayer games of 2018. – Brandon (Staff Writer)

From the Sick Critic review: “I’ll address a question lots of people will be asking before they jump into the fray: “Is it as fast as Melee?” My answer is that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the perfect balance of weightiness and speed. The gameplay is fast-paced, precise, and encourages adrenaline-filled shouting when you add more players. I thought Brawl strayed way too much into floaty territory while Smash for Wii U struck up a great balance between Melee and Brawl. In my passionate opinion, this is the best Smash Bros. has ever been, gameplay-wise. Yes, even better than Melee.”

Runner-Up: CoD: Black Ops 4

Honorable Mention: Monster Hunter World

Best Sports/Racing Game: Forza Horizon 4

Why it won: The Forza racing games have always taken the unbelievable graphics of cars and environments and combined them with unparalleled racing simulation mechanics that are unrivaled by anything else we have in this genre. Forza Horizon 4 is no exception to this and raises the bar to what a racing game can be. Between gorgeous cars and the jaw-dropping landscapes of Edinburgh, to the fast-paced racing and nail-biting finishes that leave you on the edge of your seat, Forza Horizon 4 is a gem that should be in anyone’s game collection and once you play it, you’ll know why. – David (PR and Staff Writer)

From the Sick Critic review: “I want to reiterate that this game is my favorite racing game. I have never had so much fun racing with AI and friends before and I can’t wait to finish this review so I can get back to Britain, leaving a trail of burnt rubber wherever I go. Between the music, the cars, and the landscape, this is a Game of the Year contender for sure. This is definitely going to be a game I come back to, not only to see what other crazy DLC Playground Games can whip up but to continue to experience the seasons of Edinburgh and all the crazy beauty it offers.”

Runner-Up: The Crew

Honorable Mention: None

Best DLC: Destiny 2: Forsaken

Why it won: Destiny 2, it seems, has finally found its footing with this latest DLC release and fans are showing it. They finally addressed a lot of the issues that surrounded the base game and that still weren’t fixed in the two DLCs following. By far the best DLC since The Taken King from Destiny 1, Forsaken gives players a story everyone can get behind, a brand-new multiplayer mode that is sure to be a favorite of fans for the coming months, and tons of interesting loot to keep players grinding. Bungie has taken what fans have been asking for and applied it in a way only Bungie can do. Destiny 2: Forsaken shows that Bungie isn’t willing to give up on this franchise and it’s a reason you shouldn’t either. – David (PR and Staff Writer)

Runner-Up: Spider-Man: The Heist

Honorable Mention: Prey: Mooncrash

Best RPG: Monster Hunter World

Why it won: Monster Hunter World is massive. Quests are contained within quests; fourteen distinct weapon types can be mastered; a nearly infinite number of combinations of species can occupy areas and put character’s elbow grease to the test. And yet, there aren’t many moments spent killing time, where gameplay does not shine at the forefront. Monster Hunter World trusts that its sophisticated combat system (the best of its year) and a crafting system that constantly rewards players with stronger weapons as the stakes of each encounter heighten will suffice for a compelling 50-hour experience. The gamble pays off immensely, immediately establishing a gameplay rhythm that spurs on binge-playing and makes player evolution a natural occurrence.

Monster Hunter World’s combat tests the limits of your controller interface, accompanying each weapon with its own respective combo system and making the mere aspect of learning your weapon a gameplay mechanic that sustains the entire title. The map is expansive (linking six distinct regions) and refined from detail-to-detail, an endless list of crafting ingredients are available to be plundered instantaneously and develop your inventory. Monster Hunter World’s simple premise is a trojan horse for astonishingly thorough crafting and stat systems and a combat system that makes every battle its own encounter. – Zach (Staff Writer)

Runner-Up: God of War

Honorable Mention: Octopath Traveller

Best Performance: Yuri Lowenthal (Marvel’s Spider-Man)

Why he won: Yuri Lowenthal’s performance in Spider-Man for PlayStation 4 led to not only my favorite interpretation of Spider-Man, but of Peter Parker as well. Yuri nailed the characters’ complex relationship with each other. Peter’s interactions with every character he came into contact with tugged at my heart-strings and had me yelling with laughter. The nuances in his acting came through consistently as the game progressed and reached levels I haven’t seen since The Last of Us. Well earned. – Nathanael (Editor)

Runner-Up: Jeremy Davies (God of War)

Honorable Mention: Sunny Suljic (God of War)

Biggest Disappointments: Fallout 76, Metal Gear Survive, and Sea of Thieves

Why they “won:” It’s because we were,

Hercules - Disappointed - YouTube

Best New Original IP: Celeste

Why it won: At its base layer, Celeste is a by-the-numbers brutal platformer that allows the player to approach it from any conceivable angle, whether it be your first time playing games in this vein (Providing help with a very friendly Assist Mode), or you’re a seasoned veteran looking for another literal mountain to conquer. Dig deeper and deeper into the core, however, and finer details begin to emerge, like the several evolutions of one simple mechanic, the Metroid-Vania like level design creeping in slowly and smoothly, and finally, a narrative that serves as a warm blanket over the proceeding events. It’s these little spins on formula and accessibility that make Celeste one of the few true breaths on fresh air in 2018. – Sam (Staff Writer)

From the Sick Critic review:Celeste is one of the best platformers you will ever play, period. Simplicity has never been so complex and rooted in mechanics before, and the variety of challenge is almost unmatched, surely reaching the top alongside titles like N+, Super Meat Boy and Shovel Knight. The only difference is that Celeste has an emotional gut-punch advantage over everything else.

Just buy this game, enjoy it, and understand it.”

Runner-Up: Detroit: Become Human

Honorable Mention: Dead Cells

Best Fighting Game: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Why it won: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate refuses to bore the players. Even with the most frequent items, Smash strives to put strategy first, in addition to the relentless fun. Nothing becomes too intrusive, nothing feels too challenging, and nothing feels too unnatural. Each and every fighter (except for Pichu, why main Pichu?) can be mastered with the right mindset from the right player. The crunchy sound effects and speedy mobility gives Ultimate a unique sense of accomplishment when you finally knock out your opponents. I can see Ultimate proudly compete with Melee as the best Smash Brothers game. Let the debates begin… but first, let’s settle it in Smash. -Peter (Staff Writer)

From the Sick Critic review:Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is undoubtedly the most complete game package I’ve ever sunk my time into. With a total of 74 playable fighters and over 100 stages (with three versions each) to fight on (among all the other dozen or so modes, hundreds of collectibles, songs, etc.), this game basically never ends. You’ll be playing this for the next five years, or however long it takes until the inevitable next Super Smash Bros. launches (it’s not like they’re gonna let the series die. It makes too much money).”

Runner-Up: Soul Calibur VI

Honorable Mention: Dragon Ball FighterZ

Game of the Year: God of War

Why it won: God of War took me on an adventure I never thought I longed for in a video game. The relationship Kratos instantaneously develops with you from the very beginning to the peaceful end firmly leaves a remarkable impact. The unexpectedly grounded atmosphere of a mystical world bolsters the power of the mostly invisible Norse gods and creates a mystery that gives the ancient Norse mythology the respect it deserves. I’ve never felt detached from the world Sony Santa Monica lovingly crafted. I wanted to hear more about the fables escaping from the wise Mimir. I wanted Kratos to learn how to be an independent father and teach his son how to be a man in such a perilous climate. I want to see which new threats Kratos will face in the (basically confirmed) sequels in this rebirthed franchise.

My jaw dropped the first time battling The Stranger, by far one of the best boss fights I’ve encountered in a video game. My jaw dropped a second time when Freya revealed the World Tree for the first time. My jaw dropped a third time when I found [redacted by editor]. My jaw dropped a final time when the credits started rolling. I couldn’t believe what I just played and I would do so much to play it for the first time again. God of War was a brave step forward for not only the franchise but for the entire AAA gaming industry that strives to put the dollar first instead of the game’s quality itself. An over 20-hour single-player only game should not be an uncommon venture, but thanks to the critical and commercial success Sony and other companies saw when God of War launched, I could only declare this game an artistic triumph that will not be ignored in the industry anytime soon. – Peter (Staff Writer)

Why it won: God of War combines everything we love about video games. Between the atmosphere, using Norse mythology to tell a gripping story of a child’s destiny, to the combat mechanics and how good it feels to grab the jaws of a werewolf just before he attacks you, and separate the bottom jaw, ripping it all the way down the front of his body (I got a little carried away). The voice acting makes you feel for what the characters are going through and the music playing in the background only adds to the overall immersion. God of War is a special game and is one that needs to be played by everyone. This is truly a masterpiece. – David (PR Manager and Staff Writer)

Why it won: God of War is the sort of rebrand that transcends the once deemed constraints of its IP. The franchise established itself as one with a cinematic flair early on but here it sticks the landing better than ever before. Landscapes are picturesque across the board and flattered by the cinematography and narrative pacing that allows them to stand out. The story recharacterizes Kratos’ “Spartan Rage,” providing his son Atreus as a foil, as much a focus of the story as Kratos. Kratos’ harsh exterior gives way to the need to protect and raise Atreus, the dynamic’s evolution progressing across the entirety of the extensive campaign.

Combat is more methodical taking a page from From Entertainment’s approach but meeting it halfway with the power fantasy hack n’ slash God of War became known for in the first place. Combat retains its impact while constantly unearthing new revelations about player ability. God of War is more than a high watermark for its own franchise, it’s the sort of step forward for AAA gaming often content to spin its wheels and stick to the script. – Zach (Staff Writer)

From the Sick Critic review: “God of War is nothing short of a masterpiece. The game has an emotional story that had me laughing, teary-eyed, and screaming HOLY SHIT multiple times. The game’s combat is one of the best systems I have ever played, deep and full of options...

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Bugger it, let’s just be direct, enough with the metaphors.

Hello, this is an overall review of how Microsoft and their console, the Xbox One, performed in 2018. Here, we’ll be talking about how they attempted to dominate the market with their first-party exclusives, the sales figures of the console in this particular year, the communication that the company has with their consumers, and the future of said console.

Real quick though, if there’s any console in the past decade or so that’s had a fantastic “glow-up”, it’s definitely the Xbox One. In the space of five years, they’ve gone from being the butt of jokes to at least turning heads with their decisions and presence in the market. It’s a respectable turn-around that’s impressive to say the least, but… let’s just get into it.

Test #1 – First-Party Support

Microsoft’s whole gimmick at the moment is this “Play Anywhere” schtick. Similar to how cross-purchasing works between the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, if you buy certain games on the Xbox One store, then they’re also playable on your PC, provided you have an Xbox Live account and Windows 10. It’s a service that tied to all of their first-party releases this year, including Sea of ThievesState of Decay 2, and Forza Horizon 4, but also included Game Pass titles like Ruiner and Riptide GP: Renegade.

The optimists will look at this decision and think “Well, that’s fantastic! Not only are they bringing back necessary exclusives, but they’re also flexible in terms of what Microsoft-owned products you can play them on!”. In truth, this feature is nice, but renders the Xbox One useless in the presence of a much more powerful and better option, and while some might say that’s admitting their losses this generation, it’s still a shame to see them shy away so easily.

I’ve spoken about this before, and there’s nothing here I will echo repeatedly, but at the end of the day, this just makes the Xbox One more redundant than what it already is. What’s the point in settling for second place, when first is right in front of you, easily achievable? It’s a feature that I hope only gets sectioned to titles that are already multi-platform, like how it is with games like Hello NeighborSnake Pass, and Enter The Gungeon on the Windows 10 store. Save the exclusives for the console, for Christ’s sake.

As for the quality of these games? Well, you can’t say that Sea of Thieves didn’t try… State of Decay 2 didn’t however. Forza Horizon 4 was a relatively safe bet for utter racing perfection, and finally there was the timed console exclusive release of PUBG, which might as well have been a cup full of spit when compared to everything else. Christ, at least State of Decay 2 performs well, and hasn’t been released on PS4 mere months after Xbox boasted about its presence.

Score: 5/10. These “exclusives” did sell well, and at the end of the day, one half of the heart was in the right place, but the other half has other ideas.

Test #2 – Market Presence

One thing that surprised me about Xbox’s presence in adverts, was how it had practically multiplied infinitely when compared to previous years. You couldn’t go five minutes without seeing adverts for Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 4, along with other AAA titles that supposedly performed best on the Xbox One X. It was a breath of fresh air, as if there’s one thing that Xbox has learned how to do, it’s appealing to customers with exceptionally flashy adverts, even if they mostly tell you nothing about the product you’re buying. The infamous Fallout 76 advert comes into mind as an example.

Has it worked out in their favor? In truth, I don’t know. One thing that strikes me as off when it comes to finding out how well the Xbox One performs market-wise, is that Microsoft has stopped releasing their sales figures under the guise of using another “key metric for success”. The most natural reason for this is that they’re aware of how dominative PlayStation is in the market right now, but this could change soon.

With the acquisition of multiple studios with critically acclaimed titles under their belt, including the likes of Obsidian, Ninja Theory, and inXile, and a focus on independent development with the ID@Xbox program. Microsoft are finally cutting the bullshit and focusing on one thing: Games for their console. This will drive customers to their product (Especially the Obsidian acquisition), and given how developers have responded to the ID@Xbox program, things have clearly only been going up.

Even though we have no concrete information on how many Xbox One consoles have sold in the past few years, one thing that’s quite obvious is that Xbox, as a brand and an option for gamers, is more apparent than ever. It may not be enough to come back from their poor performance this generation, but it’s enough to see them gain an upper-hand in the next iteration of the Console War. Only time will tell.

Score: 8/10. Developers are coming to the Xbox One, and in turn, Xbox One have been showing off their games, driving purchases up. Good stuff.

Test #3 – Consumer Relations

Another surprising thing about Xbox is how friendly they are, not only to customers, but anyone who approaches their humble abode. Going back to the ID@Xbox program, developers have spoken positively about the driving force behind it, and Chris Charla, the director of ID@Xbox, is part of why developers speak so highly about it.

It may not be the most important point to dwell on, but Charla’s enthusiasm and passion to provide options for independent developers to reach higher audiences is the strongest part of Xbox’s overall friendly demeanour to the customer. He, along with everyone else behind the driving force of Xbox (including the Big Boss Phil Spencer), simply want players to play games without any frills attached, and that’s great.

As for whether they listen to customers properly or not, they do have programs and initiatives in play, but only rarely have we seen the effects of such consumer interactions. It’s hard to explain, but the Xbox One interface comes to mind as something that gets changed without any input from the player whatsoever, which leads to a constantly shifting overlay that can either be decent to use, or a frustrating mess. The most recent update to the Xbox One dashboard is considered annoying to navigate and use, at least to anyone I’ve asked about it.

That being said, Microsoft have become the masters of the hype cycle in 2018, along with being loved in terms of their accessibility to the player. Thanks to the Xbox Game Pass subscription service, an absolutely mesmerizing Xbox One conference at E3, along with their console specific event XO-18 providing more insight and goodies for Xbox One users, some gamers are turning their head in envy to Xbox once more. Yet despite all of these evolutions and changes, one thing they still won’t change is their disciplinary actions.

I realize that this is mostly subjective, but for some reason, when you get banned on Xbox Live, they still won’t specifically tell what you got banned for, leading to a frustrating mess of an appeal system that rarely works. While it’s debatable as to whether or not trash talking is inherently a bad thing, especially when we’ve had the means to combat it the whole time via blocking the silly bastards, the fact that you aren’t told what you’ve been banned for is stupid. I’ve been banned for responding to hate mail before, and when I tried to appeal? No such luck.

Score: 7/10. This is a small blemish on an impeccable community that Xbox houses, and it can only get better and stronger from here.

The Future of Xbox / Overall Verdict

One thing that is odd to consider about Microsoft’s future plans for the Xbox One is that old habits die hard. With the reports of an Xbox One launching next year without a disc drive, along with their next-gen counterpart also supposedly going the same way, their dreams of pre-owned games disappearing forever may come true. Will it work? More than likely so. The age of digital for gaming is just getting closer and closer, and it’d make sense for Microsoft to collectively shrug their shoulders. I mean, what’s the point in releasing a console with a disc drive when you’ve got no exclusives for it?

See, the problem is that Microsoft has the studios, the talent, the force and the power to make an Xbox One purchase kind of worth it still, but they simply won’t. Look at all these studios they just acquired, look at them finally bringing back Crackdown from the wasteland it was left in. All Microsoft need to do now is continue to resurrect their dead franchises with the same love and care as you would for anything else, and boom!

Why not go through with a Perfect Dark sequel that isn’t a total betrayal? Why not make another sequel to Voodoo Vince, Phil Spencer’s favourite game? Another arcade blast of Amped, another joyous burst of Viva Piñata, and… Oh crap, those are the only titles they have left. Shit. Umm– Look, the point is that there’s still a few corpses left.

Better yet, get more competitive with those timed exclusives! Dance the old dance with Capcom for another Dead Rising made by people who actually know what they’re doing, muscle in on the 3.8 billion franchises and licenses THQ Nordic bought this year alone! Will Microsoft do any of this? No, more than likely not, and that’s where things get depressing.

If you asked anybody a year or so ago about the future of Xbox, you’d get either a collective shrug, or a checking of collars. For the past few years, Phil Spencer and Co. have been umm’ing and err’ing about what to do with the system, and after cutting their losses from the past few years, it seems they’re ready to strike once more. Does that mean they’re on track to be on top once more? The scales are tipped to say “no”.

As much as I’d like to say that Phil Spencer, Chris Charla, and Aaron Greenberg’s burning passion for simply bringing games to gamers with a community-driven angle behind it will give them an upper hand in the future, it isn’t looking likely. The problems have already been explained, and it feels like in some areas, the damage has been irreparably dealt. It doesn’t mean they’re out of the fight, it just means that first place is much rarer than before.

In the end, 2018 was the best year for an Xbox owner since the reveal of the original black beast, but that’s not saying much. What does 2019 bring? Crackdown 3, Gears of War 5Tunic, and Ori and The Will of The Wisps; All of which will be playable on your Xbox One console… and PC, so long as it has Windows 10. Sigh.

For the future of Xbox in consideration, Xbox gets a 4/10. Overall, that leaves us with a 6/10. Goodnight.

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It’s everyone’s favorite publisher! Right? Okay, joking aside. . . I’m actually pretty concerned about Electronic Arts. I know they have terrible practices and whatnot, but their future looks quite grim. Their stock price went from nearly 149 dollars to below 80 dollars and it’s still dropping. Investors are infuriated with EA for releasing an incomplete Battlefield V that looks to be a financial failure. Their corporate obsession stifles creative liberties of their developers and forces the best talent to crunch out a AAA game every single year. Recent acquisitions of Respawn Entertainment frightens me as a gamer. The same developer that produced one of the best first-person shooter campaigns of this generation is releasing a major Star Wars game next year, and we know jack shit about it. I can’t believe I have to ask this question, but what the hell is happening at EA?

Gamers aren’t just angry. Angry gamers still buy the games they claim to be angry about (we’re kinda stupid that way), but tired gamers are the true kryptonite for a game developer. When your own fans just don’t want more of whatever you’re producing, that’s a clear sign of some dreadful issue that needs to be addressed. EA claims to take a step forward by leaving Battlefront II-like microtransactions in their future games, but they only changed the bonuses to cosmetics. The economics largely remain the same and their games demand you pay cash to truly get some cool skins. FIFA is a whole other can of worms. FIFA 19’s microtransactions are so awful that several countries began investigations into the legality of them. While not all have concluded against EA, that doesn’t quite change the fact that creative stagnation and worsening economics pose a grave threat to this corporation.

Let’s look at EA DICE. They’ve released Battlefront 2015, Battlefield 1, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Battlefront II, and Battlefield V all within three years. They currently have only 640 people as their core studio. I get that there’s outsourcing, especially for a massive company like EA, but this would clearly cause exhaustion from the development teams. In fact, I’m certain that’s what’s happening. Battlefront 2015? Underwhelmed at launch. Battlefield 1? Also underwhelmed. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst? Piss poor sequel, barely worth 5 bucks on PSN. Battlefront II? That too underwhelmed. Battlefield V? Severely underwhelmed. Can this studio just take a break already? We don’t need an undercooked Battlefield game every other year. The investors are starting to get exhausted as well. The homogeneity of DICE’s games damages their image as a once-beloved developer and transforms them into a studio more tired than their fanbase.

One would think acquiring more studios could alleviate overworked development staff, so EA’s Respawn Entertainment purchase should be a positive change for the company. On the contrary, there’s issues already emerging that extinguishes much of the excitement surrounding Respawn’s future projects. Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order is releasing next year and we have seen no gameplay whatsoever other than a name drop and a vague premise summary at E3 2018. That’s not a sign of confidence from EA. It has also been reported that EA has commissioned Respawn to make a third Titanfall game in the same year, thus creating a narrative that the studio is juggling with two massive games. Unless Respawn has undergone a substantial expansion, any layperson would think Respawn is being strangled by EA given the fact we know next to nothing about a Star Wars game that’s less than a year away. I doubt it would be single-player focused considering their mistreatment of Jade Raymond and Amy Hennig.

What happened to those two women anyway? Weren’t both of them supposed to be making big single-player games to diversify EA’s portfolio? Well, EA decided single-player isn’t a financially beneficial option for them anymore, opting for a more service-based multiplayer model instead. As a result of this new strategy, Amy Hennig has been removed from her directorial position and the development team she headed was shut down. The corpse of the game will be built by EA Vancouver under a completely different philosophy\. No longer will gamers get an Uncharted-style Star Wars game despite the idea sounding like a multi-million seller. Jade Raymond left EA Motive and also won’t supervise the new IP her studio was crafting. EA replaced her with the EA Mobile studio director, effectively veering the unannounced game in a different direction.

There HAS to be some light at the end of the tunnel, right? Isn’t Bioware making Anthem, a new original IP from the Mass Effect team? That does sound promising and the game’s visual presentation and gameplay both look jaw-dropping. However, the Bioware we used to know of a decade ago is a mere skeleton compared to the beast the Bioware is today. Anthem will take notes from the likes of Destiny and puts story in the back-burner while focusing more on gameplay. A risky move, especially from a name such as Bioware. Regardless of this new direction, Bioware does have plans on pursuing Dragon Age after Anthem launches, which appeals to Bioware’s core fanbase. Even though Anthem represents an unfamiliar face of the Bioware fans knew and cherished, it still holds the potential to unleash a new franchise plenty of gamers will happily embrace. Some gamers remain uncertain, which is a healthy response and their voices should be heard by Bioware. However, we should accept change once in a while, even if that change does appear similar to various trends the gaming industry has set in the past few years.

Electronic Arts has been the common villain of the gaming community and oftentimes it’s for good reason. They have a history of gobbling up beloved icons of the industry and defecating unrecognizable leftovers of their banquet. Perhaps their latest acquisition of Respawn and changes with Amy Hennig’s Star Wars game and EA Motive’s new IP and the altered path of Bioware surprises naysayers, and people will applaud the efforts by the publisher. Honestly, I have my doubts and it’s pretty clear EA cares little about their fans and talent. They don’t see Amy Hennig’s Uncharted trilogy as a creative endeavor for them to capitalize upon. They just see however many millions those games sold and how much more they could make with an exploitative economy system. Just look at their reaction to Battlefield V’s disappointing launch. Did they respectfully address the genuine criticism lifelong fans have of the franchise and promise to do better, or did they stay narrow-minded and claim their detractors are just sexist basement-dwellers? Unfortunately, it was the latter and they gleefully keep digging their own grave.

For full transparency, I don’t care who’s on the cover of Battlefield V. My main issue with Battlefield V’s controversy is the absolute tone-deafness DICE and EA exhibited leading up to launch. EA chose the side of people who don’t care about video games and just want to declare some kind of political victory instead of listening to the concerns of the fans. Even casual fans admit that the Battlefield franchise pays attention to historical context and realism to immerse the player in, well, the battlefield. Most people who played it agree Battlefield V doesn’t feel like World War II and feels more like an expansion of Battlefield 1. What launched was an incomplete corpse of a Battlefield game and gives fans more of a reason to just stick to Battlefield 4. You can argue that EA will add more content down the road later, but their 2019 plans look so barren. The biggest update seems to be the battle royale mode in the spring, but even that has big boots to fill as Call of Duty Black Ops 4 offers probably the best battle royale mode. EA rushed out yet another Battlefield game, but what damages them most is their general disdain to the backlash.

Of course you had sexist comments on YouTube and Reddit, but you need a very narrow lens to claim the main source of criticism is the fact women exist in the game and nothing else. There is so much wrong with Battlefield V and EA knows damn well about it and they don’t care. They willingly disregard angry fans as hateful trolls so they look like heroes when they ‘call them out’. Because they took this strategy, gaming publications and some industry pundits will claim the weakened sales of Battlefield V is the community’s fault. The ‘entitled gamer outrage’ strikes back again with the socially progressive Battlefield game. EA had a kind-hearted nature behind the release of BFV. We just need to accept undercooked games because they represent overlooked groups of people, right?! This is #EveryonesBattlefield!

I focus on BFV because it’s most representative of this core issue of this company. They overwork their development teams which results in half-assed products at release, their consumer relations reached a new low with their recent track record of games and behavior, and their future plan is to double down on their flaws. They’re losing stock value because they’re not corporate enough. They have to move away from what the gaming community wants. Gaming enthusiasts don’t buy EA games, so who cares about them? Clearly, they need to appeal to investors and no one else. This strategy is short-term and could kill EA if they persist in this. . . well, it could take a few decades for them to file for bankruptcy, but you know what I mean.

I want Anthem to be successful, as well as whatever Respawn’s Star Wars game is and even the restructured Amy Hennig game. However, these games have to demand my hard-earned dollar and locking away cosmetics in stupidly intense grind seasons won’t cut it. I want to witness new worlds and enjoyable gameplay in addition to a worthwhile story. Will I ever get that in EA games? Most likely not from the looks of it. I’ll probably stick to Sony with that type of content or another publisher that understands quality. Hopefully, EA will have different management and steer towards the right direction. Maybe. I don’t expect any good from EA these days and I can only see them worsening.

It’s disheartening to see EA, a publisher that used to support genuinely fascinating projects a few years back, turn into a tone-deaf machine that clogs their ears and glues their eyes shut to their business malpractices. Legendary talent such as Amy Hennig will be ignored because EA doesn’t see a business venture in her ideas. Not every game needs to be a massive revenue expansion. In fact, shouldn’t the games alone act as an instrument for profits? Why not focus more on unique, quality games that strive to push the gaming medium forward instead of pushing the patience and tolerance of gamers to their limits? Instead of antagonizing their critical fans, why not engage with them and try to embrace their thoughts into future ideas? Personally, I find nothing redeemable in this company and it hurts to say that.

This isn’t an issue of greed anymore. It’s an issue of poor business decisions. EA’s non-sports games are underwhelming investors and they’re hurting themselves with this innate opaqueness they have been exhibiting for years. What would their solution be? Well, it’s simple. Listen to what gamers want. Of course, I’m not suggesting the gaming community is infallible when it comes to smart business decisions, but alienating your core base is probably the stupidest decision you could make. Gamers want a complete game with no obnoxious microtransactions, as well as a satisfying story and gameplay. It shouldn’t be too hard to deliver that demand, but for EA, they want to appeal to their shareholders by getting the biggest bang for their buck right this moment. Fortunately, this year is a reminder to EA that investors don’t really care about intricate monetization models, they just want blockbuster hits that make millions of dollars.

We’ll see what happens. EA and Activision seem to be duking it out in terms of which publisher is the worst this year, with Bethesda delivering a final blow with Fallout 76. With all these shitty publishers damaging their employees and franchises in addition to their image, it’s hard to find publishers that genuinely care about what they’re making and who they’re making it for. Well, that’s where I come in. I’m going to list every single publisher I think is worth your hard-earned dollar to support in my next article so watch out for that.

In the meantime, what do YOU think about EA? Are they overhated, hated the perfect amount, or do you see them turning a new leaf? Please let us know in the comments below and have a happy new year!

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