PS3 Review: Natural Doctrine

October 17, 2014 Leave a comment
Let's kill them all with the power of jazz hands!

Let’s kill them all with the power of jazz hands!

By: Uma Smith

Once in a while, we’ll come across a game that pushes one’s patience to the limit. Such is the case with Natural Doctrine, which sees just how much players can tolerate. For those looking for straightforward and enjoyable gameplay from the start, then it will only be “natural” to lose interest here.

CONTROLS (2/5)

Theoretically, Natural Doctrine is easy to navigate through, given that you can see the button guides at the bottom of the screen. The problem lies with the fact that there is so much on the screen that the whole appearance is convoluted and unorganized.

This is further exacerbated when there is even more clutter from all the characters moving about in an uncooperative camera angle. Considering that a lot of the buttons on the controller, along with both sticks are being utilized, strap in for one hell of a learning curve!

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3/5)

Although the portraits have a beautiful and artistic look attached to them, you’re not going to get the consistent quality with the rest of Natural Doctrine. The environments, including the dungeons, appear quite bland and uninspired while the characters are detailed to the same degree as you expect from a PlayStation 2 game.

The audio adds further to Natural Doctrine’s lackluster impression. Musically, the score isn’t memorable nor does it help add any excitement. On top of that, the effects hardly go beyond their functionality, so you’re not going to get any heart-thumping moments. Luckily, all is not lost on the audio front. The voice acting is well done as they breathe life and personality into their characters.

GAMEPLAY (2.5/5)

Humans are facing extinction, and the only road to salvation is this scarce mineral called Pluton, which grants magical energy. You take on the role of a group of professional raiders, known as Bergmans, who are tasked with journeying into these dangerous mines to collect minerals. Prepare yourselves as dangerous beings are waiting to greet you with a warm welcome.

Natural Doctrine is a turn-based strategy game that allows your characters to move freely in a given area. However, the order of your turns can be changed as you see fit through the link system. To illustrate, your friendly units that happen to occupy the same or adjacent area can override the priority of the turns and thus give you the opportunity to attack immediately.

While the gaming concept seems basic and perhaps even interesting enough to attract players, the tutorials fail to explain sufficiently. Consequently, trial and error will dictate your success in not only completing your levels but also performing basic commands in the game. It can get confusing very quickly, thereby robbing players the opportunity to enjoy the battles.

But the most agonizing part of Natural Doctrine is during situations where your enemy can quickly wipe you out, thus resulting in a game over. Just take one wrong step, and the enemy will take advantage of the link system and kill your units off.

Believe me, with plenty of chances to make the wrong choice, this occurrence will be frequent. And because Natural Doctrine has a slow pace to its gameplay, these death moments are time-consuming. When you know you’re done, it’s best to bite the bullet and move on quick so that you can learn and change your approach. In the case of Natural Doctrine, however, you have to wait through all these enemy attacks and animations as well as make confirmations of the enemy movements!

One positive thing is the ability to play with others via the versus mode or even through online. Here, you can take control of other creatures, including goblins and minotaurs, which is a nice change. Aside from the complicating appearances on screen, this portion of the gameplay does make the experience way more entertaining. That being said, perhaps this particular title is more suited as a multiplayer affair.

OVERALL (2.5/5)

Natural Doctrine has a lot of occurrences that can lead to dissatisfaction and irritation. Now, if you can overcome these frustrations, the game can actually be enjoyable. Nonetheless, you may get a more fulfilling experience with other titles within the same genre as this without having to experience the headaches.

Throwback Thursday: Win Sherlock Holmes: Crime & Punishment on XB1 or PS4!

October 16, 2014 87 comments

Sherlock

We’ve been bouncing between Xbox and PlayStation giveaways lately, but this week we’ve got everyone covered… provided you’ve taken the next-gen leap that is. Thanks to the folks at Focus Home Interactive, we’ve got Xbox One and PlayStation 4 copies of their ambitious adventurer Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments! Now it’s time to see who can solve the mystery of winning a copy.

HOW TO ENTER

Entering our contest is elementary, simply let us know who has done your favorite portrayal of Sherlock Holmes (Downey, Cumberbatch, Miller, etc.) in the comments section below. Please include your console choice (XB1 or PS4) and, if you’re on Twitter, your @handle as well. If not, just make sure the email address you use when entering is valid.

Sample Comment
Benedict Cumberbatch
@SherlockSmaug
PS4

THE FINE PRINT

Winners will be selected on Thursday, October 24th. All entries must be submitted by 4 PM EDT/1 PM PDT on Thursday. Please note that although anyone can enter you must either be following me on Twitter or submit a working email address to win.

Good luck!

PC Review: Costume Quest 2

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment
You Shall Not Pass!

You Shall Not Pass!

By: Ted Chow

With Halloween approaching you always get an influx of chilling, horror-inspired games to capitalize on the holiday. Costume Quest 2 is one such game that rightfully plays at the spirit of Halloween with all the trick-or-treating, candy corn and spooky hijinks. If you enjoy seasonal games and would rather stay indoors playing video games than actually dressing up and knocking on doors for free candy, then Costume Quest 2 might satisfy you. I’d personally prefer the candy, but I guess you can always cheat and go buy candy and play this game.

CONTROLS (3.75/5)

If you are used to isometric RPGs, then the controls for Costume Quest 2 will feel very similar. Movement is achieved through the WASD standard with E for interacting with the environment and Space for dialogue skipping and accepting commands. Your main inventory and quest interface can be accessed with J, while Tab brings up a radial dial to quickly switch costumes for your characters. There is no option to change any of the keys, but an alternative option to play with a controller is available if you prefer a different setup.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.5/5)

The graphics for Costume Quest 2 are a mixture of 3D environments and cel-shaded characters to mimic something you would see in a cartoon or comic book. While playful and fitting for a game designed for all ages, some textures felt too simplistic or lacking in detail. The minimalistic character designs are whimsical, yet a bit rough around the edges. Luckily the game has a graphics setting to add anti-aliasing and other graphical enhancements to optimize the game as you see fit.

The soundtrack, however, felt a bit uninspired with generic Halloween-themed songs and the same reused battle tracks throughout the entirety of your adventure.

GAMEPLAY (3/5)

If you played the original Costume Quest, then Costume Quest 2 will be familiar with the returning cast of Reynold and Wren as they embark on another adventure. This time the main antagonist, Dr. Orel White, is attempting to steal Halloween — just like how the Grinch stole Christmas. The story is pretty self-explanatory and doesn’t offer too many intricacies to confuse or incite any real emotion from the player. However, if you just look at the game as a silly adventure with an eccentric cast, then the experience becomes more palatable.

The gameplay revolves around you progressing through different timelines as both main characters with the occasional third character rounding out your party. Costume Quest 2 plays like an isometric RPG for those that are unfamiliar with the original game and relies heavily on exploration and battling.

You’ll move around the world collecting candy corn, battle cards and completing a variety of quests to gain XP and new costumes. Afterwards you’ll be visiting the shop to spend your candy corn currency on costume upgrades and other helpful items to power up your characters.

The game’s three-on-three battles take place on a grid where your characters take their turn followed by the enemy. There is no real complexity in the lineup order as stats such as agility don’t exist. As a matter of fact, the overall combat is very formulaic with the only commands available being attack, special attack and/or use battle cards to apply debuffs to the enemy.

After your first few battles the combat will feel monotonous and becomes more of a chore and an artificial time sink to extend the game’s length. Taken as a whole, the combat felt sluggish with no way to speed up the animation sequences.

The saving grace of the game is definitely the costumes that you find along your journey. Each one provides new special attacks during combat and has additional uses that affect the environment — for example, it might help remove stacks of leaves, negotiate with NPCs or turn invisible. Costumes can also be upgraded for a new look in battle as well as an increase in stats and strategies.

Coming in at around six hours from start to completion, Costume Quest 2 is shorter than you might expect. Much of that time will be spent wandering around, completing quests and engaging enemies within the battle mode. The quest themselves are rather repetitive and limited to finding kids playing hide-and-seek, FedEx quests and many variants of fetching.

Enemies you fight and some of the environment settings also seem to be recycled from the first game and cheapen the overall experience. And with the exclusion of multiplayer and worthwhile achievements, Costume Quest 2 becomes a game you play for the novelty and eventually shelve.

OVERALL (3.25/5)

Costume Quest 2 is a good addition to those that enjoyed the original game, but it’s limited in its full potential as a real sequel. The game ultimately feels like an expansion with, more or less, the same aspects carried over from the first. This by itself isn’t necessary a detriment as the game is solid and has its charm. However, unlike other games within its genre, Costume Quest 2 struggled to keep me engaged with boring combat and overly flat characters and story.

XB1/PS4 Review: Chariot

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment
Looks to be a Chariot... of fire...

Looks to be a Chariot… of fire…

By: Quinn Potter

A chariot was a two-wheeled wooden vehicle that was used to transport people and goods through Ancient Rome. So, if you like maneuvering said vehicle through tight spaces that depend on cooperation and often defy the laws of physics, you’ll like Chariot. In this case, you are pushing, pulling, or hitching a ride as you take the ghostly body of the king through the catacombs under Rome to collect gems.

CONTROLS (4/5)

The controls are pretty well laid out, and you can reset buttons if needed. Both the princess avatar and her fiancé respond well to the controls. There’s little need to spend a lot of time honing the power or timing of how you use the controls to navigate the maze.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.25/5)

The graphics are acceptable, but this is clearly not the lush, layered complexity of Ryse. The frame rate doesn’t hold up very well in tight corners, when the character glitches dramatically. Also, you can’t change the vibration (or turn it off), which is a well-known battery hog, so that’s a bit frustrating.

The nice, light flute music is easy to listen to and the voices used for occasional dialogue are fine. The prince and princess don’t have much variety in how they sound (“Yep! Yep!”), so that can get repetitive really quickly. The king, though, has a few cute (and snarky) comments about the princess’ taste in men, so it can be fun to hear what the old ghost has to say.

GAMEPLAY (4/5)

The game starts with a cut scene of a prince, a princess and a statue of a king. The king’s spirit appears and states that the statue of him must have jewels, so the prince and princess must go into the catacombs to gather them.

The king’s spirit is absorbed into the chariot, so the vehicle actually talks to you as you navigate the course. You can choose to go through the catacombs as either a single player or with the help of a second player. As you move through the puzzle, you’ll unlock achievements (for both players if playing co-op), such as “Air to the Throne” (12 seconds of airtime with the chariot), “Breaker of Dreams” (find the hidden level) and “Might Come in Handy” (unlock a gadget).

Every once in a while, looters will come to try to steal some of the precious gems off the chariot, but don’t worry, they never attack the prince or princess. To defend themselves, the princess can spin with her sword while the prince can shoot a slingshot. There’s a pretty limited range of motions for the characters – mostly just running, jumping, or riding on the chariot, but you can have some fun spending gems at the “Shop” to buy gadgets and upgrades.

The overall goal is to discover all the rooms of the catacombs so you can fill your chariot with jewels and the king can rest in peace. It’s a basic puzzle game with a lot of options for how to navigate the set. There are five different environments (25 levels) to explore. Once you enter the (extremely kid-friendly) tombs, you can push, pull, or ride the chariot across, up, through, or around obstacles to collect gems and find an exit.

OVERALL (4/5)

Chariot is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours of mindless fun for puzzle-game players who like to be rewarded for teamwork.

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PS Vita Review: Futuridium EP Deluxe

October 14, 2014 Leave a comment
I'm about to flip out!!!

I’m about to flip out!!!

By: Uma Smith

In these days, creativity is one of the key ways to let your work of art stand out from the rest. And in the world of video games, this is no exception. As such, Futuridium EP Deluxe is making its way over to the PlayStation 4 and Vita to prove this very point. So brace yourselves as your senses are about to be placed on stimulation overload!

CONTROLS (3.75/5)

It is easy to get the hang of Futuridium EP Deluxe since your ship movement is as accurate as it is responsive. Firing your weapon is done by pressing the X button while the right trigger allows you to speed boost; and in case if you need to turn your ship around, the square button does the trick. Such button layout makes this game a treat to play around with. The only cumbersome aspect of the controls is the menu navigation, which, surprisingly, can be quite unresponsive and clunky.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.5/5)

Futuridium EP Deluxe has an appearance that ends up giving a psychedelic feel, and that’s a good thing as it shows that it is stepping up to bat in terms of creativity and uniqueness. The various colors on screen keep the overall appearance lively and stimulating to the senses. While it may not be the most beautiful game, the package as a whole gives a nice appearance.

Where the game actually shines is in the outstanding soundtrack. The musical score is worthy of recognition as it effectively works in creating a dynamic and exciting impression.

GAMEPLAY (3.75/5)

In Futuridium EP Deluxe, you enter into a starship and pilot your way across an interestingly trippy-looking environment. Specifically, you have ended up in a repeating dimensional loop populated with even larger spaceships and are equipped with an energy bar that depletes consistently. The only way to replenish it? Expose your opposing ships’ cores and destroy them. Eventually, you’ll be sent to the next ship to do the same once again.

The game consists of five zones with 10 levels each. The more you play, the more continues (or credits) you’re given. When you manage to complete your levels successfully, you are awarded medals based on your performance. You’ll get one for getting to the end of the level within a period of time, one for avoiding death and the final for the highest combo.

At first, it will be very challenging and frustrating since the gameplay is pretty tough from the start, especially when you’re trying to stay alive. Once you’ve played for a while, however, you’ll eventually earn more credits that will afford you the opportunity to get farther in the game. From this, Futuridium EP Deluxe encourages players to revisit the game despite its unforgiving nature. Be warned: the checkpoints are not as frequent as you might expect. So if you die, you can end up way back from the beginning — something that can become very annoying with repeated play.

Thankfully, Futuridium EP Deluxe gives you another incentive to revisit the game. The more you destroy during your gameplay, the more game modes become available. These add another level of difficulty along with a different way of playing.

An interesting inclusion is the Flappyridium mode, which enters your spaceship in a strange and perhaps familiar gameplay from another popular title. With quite the abundance of unlockables available, players can probably overlook the growing frustration associated with the game’s difficulty – almost, that is!

OVERALL (3.75/5)

Futuridium EP Deluxe is certainly a delight with its psychedelic approach in graphics, memorable music and addictive gameplay. While it can be excessively difficult, it provides a deluxe experience in a space environment that shouldn’t be missed.

PC Review: Team Indie

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment
It's a cat!

It’s a cat!

By: Ted Chow

What do you get when you put some of the industry’s most iconic indie characters into a game together? Team Indie of course! And for those that enjoy their favorite characters coming together in a family-friendly 2D platformer, Team Indie offers a light-hearted experience for all ages to enjoy.

CONTROLS (3.75/5)

Team Indie provides the standard controls you’d expect from a 2D side scroller. Movement is bound to the arrow keys with D for your jump and S for special abilities, which are unique to each character. X and F are special buttons that allow you to rewind and fast forward your characters for strategic reasons. There is no option to re-bind your keys, but the option to play with a controller is available if you prefer.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.75/5)

With solid character sprites and hand-painted backdrops, the graphics provide a pleasant aesthetic to indulge upon. As a family friendly game, the color palette is very warm and inviting without all the flashiness or UI clutter to distract your attention. The graphics settings offer a resolution slider, but there isn’t much difference in the actual visual presentation.

The soundtrack is a carefree light acoustic that complements the overall tone of the experience the developers hope to convey.

GAMEPLAY (4.25/5)

You take command of the main protagonist, Marvin, a cat that was unfortunately transported into the game world and must enlist the help of beloved indie characters to return home. Marvin will travel across points on the world map and be brought into a stage similar to a Mario game that must be completed in order to advance. Occasionally new characters will become playable in the stages and need to be used strategically in order for Marvin to reach the end point.

Team Indie has an interesting game mechanic that allows you to rewind and fast forward the action of your characters. Rewind is essentially a redo of a past action(s) in order to set up proper strategies to get past certain obstacles. The characters have special abilities such as sliding, wall running or platform creating skills that contribute to Marvin being able to interact with said skills.

What I also found interesting was that a shadow copy of the character plays out the action sequence that you initiated in the background as you continue as a different character. The pacing of the shadow recording can be adjusted with the fast forward button to offer some great puzzle-solving opportunities. This adds a level of gameplay depth I haven’t seen in many other games and is what makes Team Indie stand out amongst its competitors.

Beyond completing the stages to move on, crystals and trophies can be collected within the stage to increase your overall end score and unlock achievements (both on Steam and within the game itself). The trophies you collect on your journey are visible in a specific world area where they are showcased based on their respective characters. If you missed any of the trophies or crystals on your initial run you can replay the stage again, and most likely you’ll have to, in order to acquire missing items.

OVERALL (4/5)

Team Indie is a family friendly, casual 2D platformer that brings your beloved indie characters together for a grand adventure. With an interesting mechanic with the rewind and fast forward feature, the puzzles you come across will offer a fair but rewarding challenge. In today’s world where games only focus on graphics and overused mechanics, it was definitely a nice change of pace to find something new and refreshing.

PS4 Review: Anomaly 2

October 10, 2014 Leave a comment
Where one tower stands, several could immediately pop-up!

Where one tower stands, several could immediately pop-up!

By: Jeff Cater

A few years ago, 11bit Studios turned the tower-defense game upside down with their release of Anomaly. Now a sequel has been primed, and the earth again finds itself in a desolate pit of trouble. Anomaly 2 sets the player with the task of moving a convoy, negotiating the various obstacles and enemies in your path, and then forging a path of revenge for the human race.

CONTROLS (4/5)

Anomaly 2 is an incredibly easy game to pick up and play. A few short tutorial missions will ease you into the control system, which is highly dependent on your cursor accuracy and response time. You may move your commander about the battlefield with the left stick, but directly engaging in combat is done by the vehicles in your charge.

Selecting your power can be done with either the X button, which brings up a four-sided selection of your powers, or by using the d-pad where each power corresponds to a direction identical to the X button sub-menu. Using the d-pad is the way to go here — using X can lead to inaccurate and mistaken ability placement due to having to tilt the stick while selecting, which results in your character moving ever-so-slightly out of place.

Thankfully, being given two options in regards of power utilization renders the issue above meaningless. The in-game menu system can take a little bit to adjust to, but it later proves easy and attractive.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4/5)

The journey of Anomaly 2 takes you all over the northern American countries. Unfortunately, due to the events of this game and its predecessor, most of the world lies beneath sheets of ice and fields of snow. The game is played from an overhead isometric perspective, which is a great way to scope out the barren but familiar landscapes; crystalline ice structures jut out from the ground and buildings look as though they will soon collapse due to the sheer weight of this extended winter.

Unit animation is well done and engaging as well. Most of your units can transform into alternate versions depending on which tactics are being called upon, and running from the back to the front of your convoy to switch it up is fun to do and watch. The enemy menace is truly that: menacing. They’ve got a sleek, reptilian-robot look that is both scary and eerily organic.

The soundtrack does a fine job of drumming up the drama, but it goes largely unnoticed due to the mass amount of action on-screen and all of the other sounds that come flying out of your speakers. Explosions and weapons sound full and chunky, which provides an enhanced level of engagement. Voice work ranges from spot on to embarrassing, but the game is packed with so much to do that you’re unlikely to even notice.

GAMEPLAY (4/5)

Anomaly 2 is a fun little package. Through the battered eyes of some of the last humans, you must guide your commander through various fields of battle while ensuring the survival of your convoy. The only unit you directly control is the Commander, but given that title he actually has some pretty nifty skills such as pulling up a tactical map to plan a route or repairing/upgrading units on the fly for a coming battle.

A tactical map shows your current path, which can be changed at any intersection. As such, careful planning and route revision are often a must during single player, and they’re absolutely necessary in multiplayer. Someone looking at this game without playing it might be confused about the addition of multiplayer to a tower defense title, but it actuality works very well.

One player will be setting a path for their convoy to embark on while the other player starts to place towers around the map. Each team has a different method for achieving victory as well: the convoy must destroy enemy generators scattered about the map, whereas the defensive player can either eliminate the convoy or win by collecting enough resources via building Harvester towers.

Matches can swing wildly, and a secure victory really might not be as secure as you think because while you were pounding away at a certain section, your opponent could have possibly (and very likely) buffed up the portion of the map where your next advance would be. That being said, the game has a brutal online representation and fans of the tower defense genre will be pleased to see a truly unique and fun multiplayer experience.

OVERALL (4/5)

Anomaly 2 not only serves as a fun sequel but a true advance in the genre. Sure, many of the units are identical to the first game, but the refinement of their established system and addition of a truly fun multiplayer should be more than enough to bring fans of the original back while simultaneously attracting new players. That, and the fact you’d be hard pressed to find a game at this price point that contains even a fraction of the fun as Anomaly 2.

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