Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sunset Overdrive Review - Embrace the Chaos

Sunset Overdrive
Score: 9.25 / 10
Xbox One
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: October 28th, 2014

  • Open world that encourages you to explore
  • Embraces the humor of the story in the gameplay
  • Movement is fluid and fast
  • Slew of collectibles, challenges, and missions to experience
  • Vast array of weaponry and customization 

  • Co op's anarchy makes it difficult to follow
  • Interruptions of necessary fort defense can halt the flow of the campaign

Sunset Overdrive is wonderful chaos. A Saturday morning cartoon for adults, reflected in its over the top one liners and frantic gameplay. A game that encourages destruction and variety, and punishes the conventional. From the gun play to the character customization, Sunset Overdrive will tailor to the inner anarchist in every respect.

So many elements of other titles are melded together into a single cohesion of destruction and mayhem. Take the scoring and soundtrack of Tony Hawk, the weaponry of Ratchet and Clank, and the characters of Borderlands and you have Sunset Overdrive in a nutshell. The world is your literal playground as you grind along rails firing explosive teddy bears at hulking monsters. Complete missions ranging from donning a triceratops head and mauling enemies to chugging cough medicine to infuse leeches to use on a LARPer. The absurd is glorified in this game, and it turns fetch quests and enemy clearing into something entertaining.

The basis of gameplay revolves around keeping up momentum combining traversal and combat. Your style meter builds as you shoot and move at the same time, encouraging you to stay in motion and mix up your weapons. This is eased by the simplicity of transitioning. It takes a little bit to get the hang of, but thanks to the number of traversals you can keep a combo up forever if you wish to; wall running, grinding rails, and bouncing on the tops of umbrellas or cars keeps you moving and harder to hit. These are littered throughout the world, promising a chain to each move you do. Treating the game like a traditional third person shooter is doable, but much less rewarding and much more dangerous in the possibility of getting hit once the number of enemies picks up.

The world is an open city with few limits, and the content offered is immense. Challenge icons testing your ability to perform set actions or speedy traversals, collectibles ranging from shoes dangling from power lines to toilet paper strewn across light poles, and side missions to earn extra cash are everywhere. Every corner of the map is utilized in some way shape or form, to the point that if I felt like setting off to a new location I was sure to find new collectibles or points of interest nearby. Towering power plants, amusement parks, and dog parks are just a few iconic areas you will grind across in your adventures.

You cannot have a serious plot with the tone of those game, and as such Insomniac has created a self referential comedy. You play a down on his/her luck sanitation worker, who escapes the madness of a viral outbreak created by an energy drink, Overcharge. With the help of the locals, you act as one of the last few survivors who seek to escape the city. Stellar voice work gives life to a plethora of unique individuals you will assist along the way, and cutscenes always promise a laugh. While the games emotional appeal and dire necessity of escaping the city is lacking, it meshes well with the carefree attitude of the game.

Every action you do will make you more powerful in some way by rewarding experience, cash, or overcharge to spend. The weapons for purchase range from grenade launchers to freeze bombs to automatic rifles, each with a unique twist or attribute that can be further augmented with amps like freezing bullets or enemies that explode in confetti. Likewise, cash can be spent on your visual aesthetic, offering scuba suits to pimp hats in customizing your character to your preferred post apocalyptic look. With customization for your epic ability that triggers on style level 3 to tailoring your overdrive perks for more automatic weapon damage, there is a wide array of options to not only tailor your look but lean toward your preferred play style to match.

Chaos Squad is the game's multiplayer component that matches you up with seven other players for mission based mayhem, culminating in a defense night similar to the campaign. The mode is exactly what it suggests, as weapons and enemies are flying everywhere. Missions across the city are pretty straight forward but offer varying rewards for the defense night. The chaos is a blast, but also so much that you can hardly gain a sense of what is going on; additionally most players have varying degree of weaponry and some can clear entire groups with a single shot of their high powered weapons.

Sunset Overdrive is a game I am sad I missed out on at launch, but glad I made a priority to play later. It is easy to pick up and harder to put down as missions, challenges, and collectibles beckon your call. The simplicity of the gameplay and plethora of customization opens up a wide potential of possibility and experimentation. The over the top humor and action is a blast, and the momentum never slows as the game presses forward. Random, frantic, and explosive; it is a game worthy of your time.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday Spotlight: Pyre

PC  - PS4
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Release Date: 2017

Supergiant games promise a stellar soundtrack, unique visual asthetic, and satisfying top-down action; Pyre looks to deliver the same standard we have come to expect and more.

Pyre is a party based RPG game. Not much is known on gameplay at this time, but Supergiant's blog has revealed details on the actual story:

At the beginning of the game, your luck has almost run out when several masked wanderers find you and revive you from the brink. With your help, they seek to learn the truth about the Rites, a secretive competition through which the worthiest exiles can return home, absolved of their transgressions. As you journey across the Downside in the wanderers' custom blackwagon, you'll meet a variety of characters of all shapes and sizes, and learn what's in store for each of them should they prevail in the Rites. Your actions will determine who returns to glory, and who remains in exile to the end of their days.
Aside from the unique look of Pyre, the standout feature from the trailer is the main theme.  Transistor and Bastion both featured prominent soundtracks with tunes that stood out, and this title looks to promise more of the same quality.

The game boasts difficult choices, investment in rich characters, and arena style action. Given the success of Supergiant Games, this will be sure to be a game to keep on your wishlist. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Jump In! The Water is Fine!

I have been playing Sunset Overdrive for a solid 10 hours or so, progressing through the story and doing oddball side missions, but always avoiding the surrounding water. The game never told me I could drown or swim, I made that assumption myself. I stick to grinding rails, running on walls, and falling from 50 stories; but anything near the boats and the oceans I avoided.

It took a misstep in platforming for me to realize the game was made for you to traverse water as well. I was falling toward the blue abyss, certain of a respawn, when my character dipped under and bobbed back to the surface. You could even grind along the surface of the water itself. All this time, I had abstained from going near collectibles amidst the water until my platforming abilities furthered in progress, and it was all out of this pre-existing fear that I would have to respawn and start over.

Wait, I can skate on this?

The vast majority of the games I have played had programmed me to associate water with death.

Very few considered swimming viable. Grand Theft Auto was a prime example, as swimming would not be incorporated into the game until San Andreas. One slip off the balcony and boom, gone. Psychonauts? Dead. The first Assassin's Creed? Desynched. Red Dead Redemption? You Don' Drowned. Even Batman wants nothing to do with swimming as he immediately grapples away in the Arkham City entries.

That is not say in most games it feels unjustified. In Infamous, you avoided the water by choice because we all saw cartoons when toasters entered the picture near water. Additionally, if I am walking around in a suit of armor that weighs more than me on Halo or Dark Souls, it is expected that I should sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Swimming runs strong in my bloodline...kinda

There also was justification in the limitations of the hardware at the time. Animating a character model to swim is not a simple task, and could take a substantial amount of time, not to mention coding the action for the player and the AI. Additionally oceans and bodies of water acted as invisible walls in early gaming, big blue nothings to relay to the player, "Hey, stay over there, nothing fun this way."

That is not to say water was avoided entirely, but only when it was presented as an element to the particular level or mission. The more infamous of  Mario levels ,World 2-2, would became a staple as you hum along to the familiar tune, but you were thrust into the water immediately.  We all try to forget the Water Temple in OoT, but swimming was introduced as you plummeted in the first dungeon to the pool at the bottom of the Deku Tree. Each established clearly, "Okay, water is fine in this."

 Drink some water just...just don't get too close

Lately it has become hard to tell. Here are a list of recent games that result in death in deep water, some on the outskirts of stages, others with large bodies of water throughout:

Overwatch, Destiny, Halo V: Guardians, Batman: Arkham Knight, Tomb Raider (2013), Dragon's Dogma

Here are games that allow swimming in deep water:

Witcher III, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Ori and the Blind Forest, Just Cause 3, Fallout 4, Sunset Overdrive

Despite the trend of including swimming in recent games, the occasional variance snaps me back to my usual feeling. It is like the vast majority of early gaming had me avoid it, and the newer games are easing me back into the kiddie pool.

From now on, I suppose I will have to emulate the same tactic I do in real life; Dip a toe in and see if the water's fine.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Ode to Albion

I remember revisiting Bowerstone after proving myself in the Arena, proud of the new gold I earned and eager to spend it on new armor and weapons in the shop. I strolled back into town and was greeted eagerly by the villagers. Cheers rang out as they shouted my title of Ranger, one I chose for myself based on my customization tailored to ranged combat. I pick a few new pieces of armor before visiting the local school and soaking in all the applause and praise from the children, striking a heroic pose before setting off to greater dangers.

That was the initial feeling of Fable that was sustained throughout three entries; taking the role of a powerful hero and laying influence on the world around you.

What made Fable standout for me was its world of Albion, and the overall charm that it possessed. A living, breathing world that continued even after my console was turned off., the dog is not for sale.

Albion was a world that never took itself too serious. A Monty Python-esque setting where the absurd was encouraged. Demon Doors barred your path to treasure in the demand of your character being too skinny, gnomes taunted you from high faced cliffs as you aimed to check them off of your collectibles, and local villagers made comments as I remain unmoved exclaiming, "You just gonna stand there like a lemon?" Humor was central to the world of Albion, and even amidst the tragedy your hero encountered, you could always expect a good laugh around the corner.

In the same respect, it held an array of creatures plucked from fairy tales. Litters of Hobbs would guard hidden treasures in damp caverns, lumbering earthen trolls would pop out of the ground and toss boulders at you, and even undead Hollow Men would rise from the grave to overwhelm you. There were unique takes on famous creatures of lore, from Balverines to Sentinels, and each felt more intimidating as the game progressed. You felt like part of the storybook as each fantasy themed creature sought to bar your path.

Albion was a world of heroes and villains, and the personalites you met along the way made a lasting impact. The domineering villainy of Jack of Blades and his ruthlessness in his quest for control, the mysterious Theresa's appearance in all three installments acting as narrator and guide to your journey, and the quick-witted Hero of Skill, Reaver whose morally questionable acts teeter him on the edge of villainy and heroism. There was a healthy mix of characters with noble intentions and those with ill conceived views of the world. Each was unique in look, tone, and overall impact. You were quick to pick favorites and even quicker to vow vengeance on those who did you wrong.

Daddy's gotta go get revenge, be back before dinner

The most outstanding aspect of Albion was the individuality of its impact. The world and the game, was what you made it. For me, it was playing the role of noble hero, opting to save villagers and help those in need in every decision. It was gaining a wife and child and settling them outside the city to have them run to greet me upon my return. For others it was breaking into every house and stealing, it was having a slaughterfest of town guards to see how big of a fine they could rack up, it was cross dressing and fighting bandits in the woods; what you got out of the game is what you put into it and the world of Albion was expansive enough to accommodate those desires.

Lionhead's recent closure had me ponder if I would ever venture into a newly envisioned Albion ever again. No, the Fable franchise was not the pinnacle of gaming excellence and there were promises unfulfilled; but the world of Albion and the playground the developers created was a joy to explore. There may never be another Fable title, but I rest easy knowing that my world in Fable III will always be there should I ever return to kick chickens, battle bandits, or just interact with the townsfolk.