Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the tag “pc games”

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment DLC for Switch, Wii U, 3DS, PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, PC, OS X and Linux

The third Shovel Knight campaign was the second game I ducked into on the Switch after Breath of the Wild. It was a good choice; after the sprawling grandeur of Zelda, a nice, tight platforming campaign was exactly what I needed and jumping back into the world of Shovel Knight seemed the best way to do so.

Specter of Torment tells the story of how Specter Knight came to be the ghostly presence we see in the main campaign, as well as how he first recruited the Order of No-Quarter for the Enchantress. Yet again, Yacht Club provide a masterclass in how to include story in this kind of games. It’s light, it never gets in the way, but there’s enough to add an extras layer of engagement to the rock solid platforming gameplay.

Ah yes, and speaking of the gameplay, Specter Knight is just as fun to control as Shovel and Plague Knights before him. Just as with Plague of Shadows, Specter of Torment reuses the same locations and boss fights from the base game. Although I certainly hope we get some truly new levels down the line, the subtle alterations that are made to each level make them feel distinct. Alongside Shovel Knight’s bouncing shovel and Plague Knights bombs, Specter Knight has some interesting, fun traversal mechanics. One is the ability to slash towards enemies and certain objects, launching you across the screen. This can be combed to cover large gaps, with close timing being frequently required. Less commonly, you can also grind on your scythe along rails, which is fun but perhaps a little underused.

There’s a lot of joy in catapulting yourself around the areas and the boss fights are as fun as ever, even if Specter Knight’s abilities make them a little too easy. I was a bit disappointed by the lack of an overworld this time around, with Specter of Torment instead simply containing a level select screen inside a small version of the Enchantress’ castle. It doesn’t quite feel as fully formed as Plague of Shadows, but it’s still a really fun, challenging experience.

By this point, the base game for Shovel Knight is bloody good value, with three excellent campaigns. Specter Knight is distinct and fun to play as, although I do hope that Yacht Club begin to move beyond the original campaign as their basis.

 

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided for PS4, Xbox One and PC

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a strong release surrounded by little irritations. On a mechanical and level design basis this is possibly the best that Deus Ex has ever been, but in many other ways it’s hard not to feel that Mankind Divided is a bit lacking, holding far too much back for a sequel or, worse, DLC.

Mankind Divided takes place a couple of years after Human Revolution, with our reluctant augmented hero Adam Jensen now working for Interpol in Prague. However, he is a double agent, also working for the hacker group known as The Juggernaut Collective who seek to expose the Illuminati Jensen discovered in Human Revolution. The Incident of two years before, where every augmented person in the world was thrown into a murderous rage by a force beyond their control, has left a world deeply distrustful of augs, with Prague being among the most repressive places, descending into a police state. A run in with a mysterious group of mercenaries in Dubai and a terrorist attack on a train station sees Jensen thrown back into the fray, with the future of all augmented people at stake.

I’ll say this for Mankind Divided’s story; it is ambitious. Much has been made of this games politics and the controversial adoption of the language of Black Lives Matter and apartheid, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong in using science fiction to hold a mirror up to the world; arguably that’s what sci-fi is for. That said, Deus Ex pretty much completely bungles its lofty aims. There is a clear attempt to make the player understand what it means to be an oppressed person; as you wander the streets you’ll suffer many slights such as abuse in the street, police harassment and ‘aug only’ train carriages. The latter is really interestingly handled because your HUD always leads you onto these carriages, although you can just choose to get onto the ‘normal’ carriages anyway. Having the actual HUD conspire in the oppression is really interesting, but the clever handling of this situation pretty much begins and ends there. The big problem is Jensen himself. I’m a straight white male living in the West, I don’t know what oppression feels like. I can hazard a guess however that it doesn’t feel like being a heavily armed cyborg killing machine. Deus Ex plays into being a power fantasy; getting stronger and stronger as Jensen is very satisfying, but this runs directly counter to the feeling of oppression we’re clearly meant to experience. This makes the whole thing seem shallow and very surface level. However, before I lay into this game too much I do want to say that I like that they tried to do more with the AAA narrative, a space which seems determined to be as apolitical as possible even whilst pumping out extremely political games like Call of Duty.

Unfortunately, the narrative problems with Mankind Divided don’t end there. Put simply, this game doesn’t really have an ending. A conspiracy is hinted at but very little is revealed. There are several plot threads which just drop off, either for a sequel or for DLC. There is nothing wrong with teasing a sequel, but the story presented must in itself be satisfying. Serialised storytelling works for TV shows where you have a new episode every week, but for games which may have a 2-4 year gap between them it just doesn’t work. The consequences of your choices are handled in an almost hilariously poor fashion, with a TV presenter literally talking to the camera for five minutes explaining all of your choices and then a cut to credits. I could not believe it. There is good stuff here, particularly in some interesting side quests, but Mankind Divided is left feeling like a transitioning story between the globetrotting grandeur of Human Revolution and a larger scale sequel in the future, but not memorable in its own right.

Thankfully, the actual minute to minute gameplay of Mankind Divided is superb. Although I’m sure it’s possible to play this game as a guns blazing killing machine, I played as a stealthy hacker type and this remains hugely satisfying. Jensen feels comfortable to control in a way he didn’t in Human Revolution. The augmentations from the previous game return; you have the classic Mega Man/Metroid problem of losing all your upgrades at the beginning, but for whatever reason it didn’t feel too irritating to me. You also have a whole load of new augmentations, a lot of which are aggressive and murder-y and so didn’t really suit my playstyle. I really only used remote hacking, which is really useful and a paralysing laser beam thing which suited my non-lethal ways. The dreaded outsourced boss fights from the last game are thankfully gone. In fact, Mankind Divided only contains one boss fight which is hilariously easy. I don’t think this is a series which needs boss fights at all; if given the option I always talked myself out of any situation anyway.

Mankind Divided is a much more focused game than its predecessors, which generally featured a couple of hubs. Prague is the sole hub setting in Mankind Divided, although you will make three jaunts off to more linear areas outside. The first of these areas, an augmented city/concentration camp, is fascinating and compelling; I could have played a whole game set there, but the following two aren’t quite as interesting. Prague itself is a great hub, with three phases throughout the story; day, night and curfew lockdown, the latter of which is deeply irritating as you have to sneak around to get anywhere, even travelling between side quests. Oh, and those side quests! While they’ve always been present in previous games, it was always the main story which stuck in my head, but the side quests in Mankind Divided are excellent, arguably the best part of the game. Don’t miss a single one. Overall, this is actually quite a short game, definitely the shortest in the series. I don’t really think this is a problem, if not for the fact that it’s hard to shake the feeling that things are being held back for DLC. I got an extra mission as a Day 1 purchase reward thing, which in the end felt quite substantial from both a gameplay and a story perspective. IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN PART OF THE MAIN GAME. The missions that are there are superbly designed, with a genuinely open structure. If you only ever follow the HUD markers, you’ll miss stuff and often get lesser outcomes in the missions. Ignoring the HUD and experimenting often pays off in a way which is quite rare in open world games. Even in games I adore like The Witcher 3, each mission plays out in a linear fashion with little real choice from the player, but in Mankind Divided you can really get quite clever with the immaculately designed environments.

The environments in Mankind Divided are beautiful. Prague is the best hub in the series, with a wonderful combination of classic architecture and over the top sci-fi silliness. Exploring the city streets is hugely atmospheric and the general visual design is very strong. The same cannot be said for the character animations, which are stiff and awkward. The voice acting is a mixed bag too; there’s some good work here, but also some irritatingly bad accents, particularly some awful grating English ones. The original Deus Ex had some shocking voice acting too, but at least there it was hilariously bad (I’ll never forget that Australian bartender) but here it’s just annoying. The music is a bit of a let-down too; Deus Ex has one of the best themes in gaming so bloody use it! The moody electronica is gone and replaced with nothing memorable. I hope that in the inevitable follow up the same attention to detail is given to the other elements that was given to the environments.

Mankind Divided reminds me a bit of Metal Gear Solid V; a really good game with rock solid mechanics which just ends up feeling…lacking. I appreciate what’s there, but it’s difficult not to feel like it needs a bit more. Hopefully next time Square Enix divert resources away from microtransactions and pointless free to play game modes and put everything into making the best Deus Ex game they possibly can. I wouldn’t count on it though.

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Gone Home for PS4, Xbox One, PC, OS X and Linux

Gone Home has become an odd vector for controversy since it was first released back in 2013, being a favourite punching bag for Gamergate knuckle-draggers bemoaning the success of something that isn’t a ‘real game.’ In the years since, this attitude has only become more ridiculous, as more and more games in the vein of Gone Home have come about, although this may have had the effect of slightly robbing the original of its impact.

In 1995 Kaitlin is returning to her childhood home after a lengthy period travelling. Arriving to an empty house, the player moves around using visual and audio clues to piece together what happened in her absence. The plot is fairly slight, but deals strongly with a theme little seen in gaming back in 2013 (and still very little today); LGBT love. Kaitlin’s sister had fallen for a young female army cadet, with the strong implication of serious disapproval from her parents. The actual story isn’t actually that interesting but it is one of the first time that this kind of stories has been the focus of a game. There have been strides towards LGBT representation in games; from the transgender mercenary deputy in Dragon Age: Inquisition, to your gay boss Miller in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and not forgetting the varied player controlled protagonists given gay romance options. Still, what none of these games do is put LGBT experience at the core of the narrative/ They may contain gay characters, but the stories aren’t about them and in some case gloss over them, filling a diversity quota but not much more. It is still inconceivable to imagine a AAA action game with an LGBT protagonist. Gone Home proudly stands as a noble exception.

That said…I still didn’t really like it much. I actually have little problems with walking simulators if the environments are beautiful or interesting enough, but Gone Home’s house simply isn’t that enjoyable to explore. It’s small, boxy and annoying to navigate. The story isn’t actually interesting beyond the overdue pleasure in seeing an LGBT narrative at the core, but if you’d taken the exact same gameplay and story and made it about a straight couple I don’t think I could have cared less.

Overall though, it undeniably was a pleasure to see an LGBT relationship at the core of a videogame and I hope to see more of it soon, but preferably in a more interesting game than this.

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Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I never played the original Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, so the sequel to the spin-off didn’t particularly appeal to me. I only played this game because it popped up on PS+ but I’m glad that I did; it’s a fun little game and one that has a lot more depth than it originally seems.

Lara Croft and rival archeologist Carter Bell are in an Egyptian tomb when Bell removes the mythical Staff of Osiris from a pedestal and in the process frees Set, an evil deity who seeks to dominate the world. At the same time, Horus and Isis are awoken to help them reassemble the scattered body parts of Osiris so that he may counter Set. This isn’t a game you’re going to be playing for the plot, because there isn’t much of one.

Despite not including it in the title, Temple of Osiris contains much more actual tomb raiding than most Tomb Raider games. Temple of Osiris is an isometric action game with RPG elements, as Lara and up to three other co-op buddies make their way through a series of tombs, solving puzzles and fighting strange monsters as they go. The combat is simple twin stick stuff, with some cool boss fights, but the focus is far more on puzzling, which is nice for those of us who are worried that the mainline Tomb Raider franchise is heading in a worryingly combat focused direction. The puzzles aren’t necessarily complicated, but they’re fun to solve. This is all helped by the fact that Lara just feels good to control, offering a responsiveness that reminded me of A Link Between Worlds. There are some issues, such as the isometric angle making some platforming sections a bit tricky, but overall it works well.

Outside of the core tombs required for the story is a hell of a lot of other stuff to do. There’s an overworld with plenty of side tombs and optional challenges and one of the cool things about it is the ability to change the weather and time of day to open up and close off other areas of the map. There’s a lot of loot to get in this game too, such as amulets which give Lara particular buffs or rings which affect her weapons. One of the coolest features is the way the dungeons change depending on how many people you have with you, ensuring that you’re always going to have a decent experience no matter your player number.

Temple of Osiris isn’t the prettiest game but it gets the job done. It can be a little difficult to tell what is going to instantly kill you, so perhaps a little more clarity could have been good. This is the kind of game that really would have suited being stylised in some way, perhaps cel-shading; as it stands, it all just looks a little bland. The voice acting is fine and the music forgettable, but there’s a good layer of polish over everything which counts for a lot.

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris isn’t a mindblowing experience, but it’s a decent one nonetheless. If it’s sitting around in your PS+ library, it’s worth a go.

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