IReview – CONTRAST -Shadows Within Shadows

CONTRAST

Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Conpulsion Games
Platform: Xbox One
Availability: Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, Windows

Contrast is a game of shadows. Set in a noir type atmosphere, we play as Dawn, an imaginary friend to Didi, who is a little girl. Dawn and Didi are the only two characters in the game who appear as full 3D figures, and the rest of the cast is made up of shadows. The key gameplay mechanic in Contrast is Dawn’s ability to move between the 3D physical world, and shadows, the 2D world. Sounds like an interesting mechanic, right?

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The story follows Didi who has led a troublesome childhood. Her mother is a cabaret singer, and recently separated. Child support has threatened to take Didi away her mother if she doesn’t find stable work; that or reconciles with her husband Johnny. Johnny has been kicked out of the house due to his association with gangsters and racking up dept, which is not healthy behaviour for a family. Didi sneaks out one night to watch her mother perform at the Cabaret, and it is here where we watch the interaction between a shadowed Johnny and Didi’s mother Kat discuss their failing marriage and Johnny’s big plans to improve all their lives

Wanting to help her mother and Johnny reconcile, Didi follows Johnny to the bar where we witness the meeting between Johnny and Vincenzo, a famous illusionist. Johnny is trying to convince Vincenzo to perform at his new circus event. Simple enough, but Johnny doesn’t have enough money, so he returns to the gangsters to borrow more.

What follows is a tale of Didi and Dawn following Johnny throughout the night, and fixing his blunders, ensuring that his circus project gets off the ground, and that he makes good on his debts.

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The game is a puzzle platformer. As Dawn, we have the ability to transition between the real 3D world, and the shadow world. Using projectors, spotlights, and other maneuverable light sources, we have to navigate the streets and building interiors, getting from one checkpoint to the next.

The game is broken up into three chapters, the first being the largest and lengthiest. This chapter sets the stage and introduces all the mechanics, and tells the bulk of the story. Chapter two fixes the conflict revolving around the circus, and its three attractions that are of course broken or in disrepair. The last chapter concludes the events of the story and wraps up the relationships of the primary characters. This chapter ties all the mechanics together into more challenging and sometimes time-sensitive puzzles.

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The game is short in length and shallow in concept. And while it was released across both Xbox’s and Playstation’s platforms, it’s only OK looking. The noir theme and character design is fine, but the environments were fairly lifeless and stale. And just lonely, as Didi and Dawn are the only two physical characters in the world.

The shadow concept was unique, and I found it especially amusing that you can’t die in the shadow world – unless you fall off a platform – but in most instances you just get squeezed back into the 3D world.

But the platforming mechanics were not as smooth or refined as they could be. Oft times jumping led to falling as the character animation, and Dawn’s model in particular is not that agile to maneuver. The story was short and the gameplay was clunky. Some of the puzzles were excellent in design though, where the player has to maneuver two or three different light sources to cast shadows on the wall, that they then have to scale.

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In the category of achievements, this game made the list of Xbox One’s games easiest to 100%, and for good reason. Play it and you’ll acquire a nice 1000G. Only a few of the collectibles are actually hidden, where the rest are out in plain sight, and each part of the story will net you a couple hundred G’s

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Notable Achievements:
To The Heroes Among Us (Unlocked when the player finds the hidden Extra Life 2012 logo) – 25G
Not The Kind of Game (Unlocked when the player tried to enter the XXX door) – 10G

-iRogan

iReview – RORY McILROY PGA TOUR – You Get Bad Breaks From Good Shots

RORY McILROY PGA TOUR

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Platform: Xbox One
Availability: Xbox One, PS4

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Now you’ll have to forgive me, but I haven’t played an EA Golf game in a few years, possibly even an entire console generation. I do have fond memories of the Tiger Woods EA golf games on the PS2 and Xbox however, even on the PC. I also don’t typically review annual titles like Hockey or in this case, Golf, because they’re essentially the same game year over year, with minor improvements.

Nevertheless, the PGA Tour series has always had a place in my heart. I enjoy playing the game, even in RL, I’m just not that great. The PGA Tour games are one of those annual EA Sport titles that are justr shy of being an RPG, except you have to reset and recreate your character after every expansion.

In the same light as Need For Speed, EA took a year off from its annual Golf franchise to prepare for the latest console generation. Also, coincidentally, they took this time to make us all forget about the Tiger Woods’ name and brand, as he’s been stricken from the cover. For the first time since 1998, Tiger Woods was not used as the cover athlete, and his likeness is not used in the game whatsoever. He’s not the household name he once was. Rory McIlroy is the new face of golf, and our new cover athlete. Rejoice.

The 2015 iteration of the PGA Tour franchise was rebuilt from scratch for the latest console generation, and now uses the Frostbite 3 engine to render more realistic environments. An entire 18 hole course can now be rendered as a single map, so other fairways become playable whereas before, errant shots would have been considered out of bounds, when the course was rendered hole-by-hole.

Not only do the courses look better, but more information can be gathered from the different lengths of grass, tree branches and sand. Throughout, the engine just allows for more realistic physics and interactions between the ball and environment. That being said, while the courses may look nice, everything else about the visual presentation is lacking, from the static wildlife to the laughably minimal character creation and clothing options. Swimming ducks hover above the water, deer or foxes just walk a straight line with barely a hint of animation, and you’re stuck with a bare selection of generic faces when creating your own golfer, and only a handful of different “EA” labeled clothes, until more are unlocked through tour progression. You also can’t create a female golfer. But at least the AI crowd reacts as one would expect, when you aim a golf ball in their general direction.

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“Did that go in? I wasn’t watching, did it go in? I didn’t see it, could you tell me if it went in?”

The game offers up a few different swing mechanics to try: “Arcade”, which uses the analog stick to swing and allows the player to apply a spin to the ball mid-flight, the traditional “3-Click”, click once to generate the back swing, 2nd at the peak of the swing, to generate the forward momentum, and 3rd at the precise point of impact, and finally “Tour” which is for advanced users, similar to the “Arcade” method, but with higher sensitivity, and with no assists.  Additionally, the game has also seen some improvements in the aiming, and putting line.

The regression is also noticed when you take a look at the lack of game modes and courses, as most are notably missing from the game on launch. As previously mentioned, no female golfers allowed, so the Women’s events have been scrapped, as well as Best Ball, Skins, and Stableford gameplay modes. All you’re allowed to play is Stroke and Match, and restricted to back 9, front 9, and 18 hole courses. Online tournaments and a full proper career scheduled have also been removed.

The game at launch included eight real-world courses, with a few additional courses made available through free DLC, and a handful of fantasy courses. The PGA Tour event has the player playing through many 4-day events, to increase PGA Tour rank and level up our player’s attributes. What I noticed with this mode is you no longer play a full 18 hole course every day, but a smaller selection of 5 to 8 holes per day, and then the game simulates the rest of the day based on your attributes. This may have been the result of my choice in Arcade gameplay style, so I’ll have to dig a bit deeper. No visible calendar is available, so you just move from one event to the next. As we rank up, the attributes that improve our player are based on our play style, and will focus on areas that we excel at, or improve in, instead of letting the player manually pick where we want to see the incremental changes.

A new mode that they have added is the Night Club Challenge mode, which offers up about 200+ challenges across 3 maps. These challenges range anywhere from target practice, to putting challenges to trick shots, and utilize boosts and power-ups like a rocket-ball, double bounce, or speed spin. Each challenge grades you on a 3-star measurement based on points.

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“Lotta pressure. You gotta rise above it. You gotta harness in the good energy, block out the bad.”

Overall, while some improvements have been made to the engine as a whole, better visuals, life-like crowds, and better ball mechanics, the lack of features and courses, non-existent game modes, and character creator are what hurt this title the most. It’s clear that this is a 1.0 title again, for the latest console generation. And this is something that plagued a lot of the EA annual titles at the transition to this latest console generation. It’s just a little concerning that EA took a full year off from the brand, and we’re still left with an empty shell.

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On the Achievement side, like Need For Speed, the game is quite generous. At the time of this writing, I am only two locked achievements shy of 100%, and the remaining two are related to the Night Club challenge mode, where I’m left to finish each challenge, and getting the required amount of stars. Just time consuming. The rest are basically complete the PGA Tour season, and try the different game modes at least once.

Notable Achievements
All I Do Is Win (Win a PGA TOUR event) – 15G
Now you’re golfing with Portals (Hit through a portal for the first time) – 15G

-iRogan

iReview – NEED FOR SPEED – What Once Was Bare is Now Complete

NEED FOR SPEED (2015)

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Ghost Games
Platform: Xbox One
Availability: Xbox One, PS4, PC

Calling Electronic Arts‘ Need For Speed 2015 edition a “reboot” is kind of a misnomer. The annual series is not a continuity, in name or form. Each iteration stands alone, and doesn’t share anything that the previous release showcased. Each game is different, with different play styles being highlighted each year.

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The Underground pair (’03 and ’04) showcased an open city focused on street racing and car modifications. Most Wanted (’05), open country, was about out-running cops. Carbon (’06), urban setting, was about crew and drifting. ProStreet (’07) went away from the street racing and focused on closed courses – to mixed reviews. NFS Undercover (’08) brought back the story lines and open city, where we play an undercover cop chasing down street racers, trying to recapture the Underground glory days. This is also where the series would shift between different developers each year.

NFS Shift (’09) and Shift 2 (2011) brought back the closed course circuit races, highlighting pure racing and drifting, and focused on authenticity, with the returning dash-cam. Hot Pursuit (2010) brought back the open city and cop-centered chases. At this point Criterion, known for their Burnout series, took the helm as developer, and takedowns and crashes became a key point in the series for alternating years.

NEED FOR SPEED WAS SLIGHTLY LIMITED AT ITS OUTSET

NFS The Run (2011) switched to the Frostbite Engine and focused on a break-neck story as the player sped across the United States in a cannon-ball run. Featuring a mix of highway and city races, and big action pieces, with a story, and cut-scenes. Then the series switched back to their roots with another Most Wanted (2012) and Rivals (2013). Again, focusing on chasing or being chased, and taking down opponents.

EA then took a year off in 2014, after Rivals was released, to ‘refocus’ their brand, to figure out what Need For Speed really meant. To ‘reboot’. But calling it a reboot seems odd. Anyways, as it turns out, what Need For Speed really means is: Speed, Style, Crew, Build, and Outlaw; the pillars of the series. Mash them all together and you have Need For Speed (2015). And then just add a gorgeous new engine, and tack on Live-Action cutscenes, composited over real-time CG backgrounds. Now you’re set.

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As its first “true” next-gen NFS game, EA‘s Need For Speed 2015 was slightly limited at its outset, its catalogue of cars left a lot to be desired when you compare it to Forza Horizons 2, and it hosted an online city with not a lot of online options. AND its actual races were not that diverse. You have your time trials where you drift around corners. You have your points-focused drift races, where you drift around corners to earn points. There’s the group races, checkpoint or free roam, where you face off against anywhere from one to four opponents, and drift around corners. And then you have group drift races, where, as a pack, you tackle the hills, and drift around corners to earn points. The closer you remain as a group, the higher the point multiplier.

Then the cops show up, sometimes even during the races, where you’re asked to escape. Each race, as you progress through the story becomes a little bit more difficult. But as long as you have the right car for the race (checkpoint or drift) then you actually remain fairly competitive throughout. Minor upgrades to your engine parts is all it takes.

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So, repeat that a hundred times, and that’s the scope of the game. There are collectibles thrown around the map as well, vistas, doughnut spots to ruin your expensive tires, and car parts.

The map is fairly large, comparable to other NFS open-city games. There’s not a lot of traffic, and you may come across a handful of other online racers competing in a race of their own, or running away from cops. Similar to NFS Rivals, NFS 2015 hosts an online-only world, filled with leaderboard tracking and friend suggested races. Having only a small grouping of other online players in your world is a nice feature, but I’m glad its limited as the online world is persistent. So when you’re competing in a race, you’ll likely see another player drive by, or through your race. The game takes place primarily at night, on rain-slick roads, so corners or other traffic isn’t always easy to see. Some parts of the city, oddly, as you drive through may suddenly be lit by the dawning sun, and these instances are sudden and jarring, like opening the door of a dark lit, blinds-closed room, into the morning sun. Like we’ve been racing all night, and suddenly realize that it’s morning, and should probably get some sleep. Not like we have a job or anything.

YOU WON’T FIND ANY TIME-LAPSE VIDEOS OF NFS’ DAY AND NIGHT CYCLE

Aside from the jarring sunrise, visually the game is absolutely stunning. A lot of love has gone into the cars and designs, and effects. The rain slick roads, reflections, and lighting at night are all life-like. The city has a lot of destructible elements, and some that are frustratingly not, which as a result will have you looking at the slow-motion spectacle that is you crashing your car. The city streets and buildings are nicely textured, but the buildings especially are somewhat plain to look at. But the developers at Ghost Games probably aren’t expecting you to be looking at the low-poly box buildings for long.

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As mentioned, the game’s story focuses on the 5 pillars that define Need For Speed, and you play a part in a small group of racers waiting to be noticed by the 5 real-world motorsport and street racing icons, who each represent one pillar. As you race through the story, and earn reputation in each focus, you then get to face off against each icon. The final races have you facing off against all the story characters and each Icon to become the Ultimate Icon. Happy ending. Fin.

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There’s been a lot of bemoaning about the story in Need For Speed, and how it’s told through terribly acted Live-Action cutscenes. Everyone is super hyped, or super jealous, and they live out of trailers, or auto work-shops, listening to Dead Mou5, and drinking Monster. It’s terribly cliché, but it doesn’t actually detract or distract from the game.

The game is still fun. Sure it feels like all the races are exactly the same. And there are some gripes about the loose handling, or that in designing the game in Frostbite, the developers have turned the vehicles into four million pound bricks that can hardly take a jump. The lack of interesting things in the city did make the trips between each race kind of tedious, and instead, I found myself just transporting to the start line, as the loading times were minimal.

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Since its release last November, the game has seen some free love from EA and Ghost Games. They’ve made some of the Icon cars playable, added a race tournament, they’ve bolstered the player’s vehicle garage from 5 to 10 store-able vehicles, added Drag style races, and some Roadster vehicles, as well as improved some of the online functionality, adding the ability to challenge other racers on the fly, or invite them to take part in the campaign races. They’ve also added a photographer mode to capture your vehicle, and your beautifully hand-crafted artistic wraps, in-game. Almost like they knew they were releasing the game less than full. Extra effort has been put into the online functionality and competitive racing scene.

Now, after release, the game feels complete, and a better positioned contender for your harddrive’s storage or internet’s bandwidth than in November. Not to mention, at a lower price point.

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In the Achievement department, the game is very generous. Most are story related, and will be unlocked by just completing all the races. Every new DLC addition adds new achievements as well, to encourage people to come back, as these are overly generous in Gamerscore numbers.

Notable Achievements
Choo Choo! (Complete the drift train mission with the Risky Devil crew) – 30G

Wrap It Up (Download a Shared Wrap) – 80G
Filter Addict (Take a snapshot with a filter in the Snapshot Pro Mode) – 80G

See? Super generous.

-iRogan

 

Revisted iReview – SHADOW COMPLEX REMASTERED

SHADOW COMPLEX REMASTERED

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studio and Epic Games
Developer: Chair Entertainment and Epic Games
Platform: Xbox One
Availability: Xbox 360, Windows, Xbox One, PS4

I played the original release of ChAIR’s Shadow Complex back in 2009 as an Xbox 360 Arcade title. The title at the time  broke the mold as far as 2D side-scroller action games were considered. The world is actually fully three-dimensional but the player can only move on the 2D plane. Mixing up the genres, the player can shoot in the 3RD dimension as some enemies will be in the background. Luckily the game’s shooting mechanic are pretty forgiving in these instances, knowing that the enemies are actually in the background, and will assist the player when aiming. Now Epic Games has remastered it and released it for the PC, Xbox One, and PS4 in the summer.

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The game is a 3rd-person action platformer and follows Jason Flemming and his new girlfriend Claire. They’re out on a camping expedition and stumble across some caves that lead to a hidden underground base filled with enemy soldiers and futuristic technology. Claire is captured and we are tasked with navigating the complex to save her and uncover the story behind the massive complex.

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The whole game takes place in the underground facility, and mountainous region directly above. As the player progresses through the game, we start to get access to some of the future tech, starting with a jump pack to allow us to double jump, then grenades, and assault rifle. We then find an advanced suit, a foam gun, missile launcher and hook shot. The player’s flashlight will highlight objectives and colour-coated hidden areas. Each weapon allows the player to advance into new areas:the gun can shoot through yellow grates or floor panels, grenades can blast through green walls or rocks, the foam gun can freeze or explode purple paneling, and the missile launcher explodes through red blast shields. Each unlock is staggered throughout the facility while exploring, but will also encourage re-treading the map and exploration later one when everything is unlocked to find all the game’s many collectible collectibles. The hidden key cards are required to unlock the suit’s last upgrade – however this is not required to complete the game.

The gameplay and visuals really stood out at the time, for a 360 Arcade title, and it still stands up today. The remastering has brought brighter colours, and some better lighting and textures – Jason’s face especially. Claire has not seen that same upgrades though -maybe it’s true that men age more gracefully. The facility textures have been upgraded too, but with that, the land above in the mountains have not seen the same attention. There are still some hiccups in frame rate when a cut-scene initiates or in an especially large area with a large number of enemies.

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The game has a diverse set of enemies from the foot and rocket + shield soldiers and special ops with a hook shot of their own. Then there are some mechanized walkers and a few spider tank bosses, and a huge bi-pedal boss with a shield.

*spoilers ahead*

The bulk of the story is only revealed at the end. The whole time in the facility we get the impression that this base is meant as a staging ground for something bigger, but our main focus is tracking down Claire and escaping. When we finally get the chance to do so, Jason lets Claire escape and we go back to shut the operation down. The final section concludes with a large airship leaving the base as we confront the leader, and find out that they’re going to invade San Francisco. Having unlocked all the suit’s perks and weapons, we attempt to survive the final stage while taking down the airship with some programmable nuclear warheads and shooting them at the airship – that the base has active warheads, and the player is able to initiate their launch notwithstanding.

The COBRA-esk villain approaches Jason threateningly, and in turn ends up with a bullet in his head thanks to our returning friend, Claire. Turns out she’s NSA and used us as a cover to infiltrate the base. She killed the boss in an attempt to save us from killing him in cold blood. Are you kidding me? The game tallied it up for me: I killed 798 soldiers to save you and the world! But thank-you Claire, my conscience is clean. I’ll sleep easier.

“LUCKILY THERE ARE PLENTY MORE FISH IN THE SEA”

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The controls are smooth and intuitive, and aside from a few visual glitches the Remastered Edition is just as fun as I remember the original being. My only gripe is some inconsistencies in the enemy AI. In some of the larger stages, enemies off-screen will see the player without being provoked and start shooting immediately, before we can even see them, but other cases the player can walk up to enemies completely unaware, and do a stealth take down.

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The game should be lauded for its gameplay: it’s built around the idea that you can infiltrate the facility with minimal weapons and perks a la Metal Gear Solid, so there are a lot of sneaky paths and creative ways to attack each section. Or you can go in guns blazing, removing every foe in your path. Choose your own adventure.

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The remastered edition also brings with it a slew on new achievements encouraging playing the game in creative ways, collecting all the collectibles, and killing the bosses in different ways.

For those that like remastered games, 2D Metroid/Castlevania/Mega-Man Games, or those that wished they could abandon the princess half-way through the story.

Notable Achievements
Status Update: Single (Complete the game by abandoning Claire to her fate) – 30G
Hook, Line, and Sinker (Kill an enemy with the Hookshot) – 20G

-iRogan

 

 

iReview – VALIANT HEARTS: THE GREAT WAR – Hand Drawn War

War makes men mad.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Platform: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, Ps3, PC, iOS, Android
Reviewed On: Xbox One

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I don’t know a lot about World War I other than it might be the focus of EA’s next Battlefield game. I do know that it hasn’t been the focal setting of many games, whereas World War II has been heavily played out. The developers at Ubisoft Montpellier strove to change this fact – those behind Rayman Legends and Child of Light – and have brought us an artistic title that takes place in 1914 as Germany declares War on Russia.

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Valiant Hearts is a game about War, but not a War game. The story follows the path of four characters: the Frenchman Emile, his German son-in-law Karl, American soldier Freddie, and a Belgian nurse named Anna. The main focus of the story is Karl, as he is deported from France, separated from his wife Marie and child, and then drafted into the German army. Marie’s father, and Karl’s father-in-law Emile is drafted into the French army. What follows is a tale of Karl and Emile fighting the war on opposing sides, crossing paths occasionally, and trying to survive. Freddie, an American soldier who volunteered to join the French army fights alongside Emile, and they all cross paths with Anna, a Belgian student / battlefield nurse, and Walt, a Doberman Pinscher dog, throughout the tale.

The game is broken up into 4 different parts, and each part consisting of 6-7 chapters, each following the path of the different characters interwoven through the different stages of the war. The tale concludes in 1917.

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VALIANT HEARTS IS A GAME ABOUT WAR
BUT NOT A WAR GAME

Valiant Hearts is a 2D animated puzzle based game. Before progressing through each chapter, the character we’re playing needs to complete certain objectives. These puzzles generally involve obtaining certain items needed for that situation and delivered to the correct people or used to open a new stage. There is little to no dialogue in the game, and the NPCs in the game will just display a picture of the object or action required. In the wartime segments of the game, the player has to survive gunfire segments from enemy soldiers or planes, bombing runs, and stealth levels where the player has to avoid the patrols of enemy soldiers, by hiding in shadowed areas.

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Some of these segments are really when done, for example when running through the fields at night during a bombing run, to avoid enemy signs, you need to run when the sky is dark. When the bombs hit, they will light up the stage, so you need to make sure you’re hidden.

There is no gunplay during the game, but there are times the player needs to use a melee attack to knock out an unsuspecting guard. The player will need to punch through debris that may be blocking the path or throw dynamite to clear areas or throw an object to break a window. Each character that we play also has different traits. Emile has a shovel, and can dig through soft dirt to avoid gunfire or planted explosives, Freddie carries shears to cut through barb-wire barricades, and Anna is able to treat injuries, which is done through quick-time events.

CARTOONY, BUT NOT-FOR-KIDS CARTOONY

Another example is a stage where we’re stuck inside a house that has been the focus of a chemical attack. We’re wearing a gas mask, but inside, all that’s visible is the green smog. We need to find windows and smash them to help vent the gas so that we can see then next area.

The dog, Walt, is also utilized throughout the campaign. He can be commanded to fetch objects or activate switches. The enemy soldiers ignore him, so he’s utilized to grab items behind enemy lines.

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The art is all hand drawn and animated and cartoony, but not-for-kids cartoony, and it’s evident that Ubisoft has put a lot of love into the art and design of this game, and invested time to tell a tale about survival, sacrifice, and friendship. The game is inspired by real letters written during the events of World War 1 and throughout the game the player unlocks facts about the history of the War, and collectibles with their own unique history.

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The campaign is a fairly lengthy affair, for a game of its type, and it does play a bit slow. Some of the wartime segments are completed through trial and error, but the puzzles are fairly straight forward. The game even has a hint system in place if you get stuck at a certain segment for too long. As well, the narration between chapters can be a bit dry, but that comes with telling a sombre tale of War.

Perfect for those that like illustrated games, World War narratives, or playing fetch with the dog.


 

On the achievement front, the game is very generous. There are some story related ones that can’t be missed, and some for collectibles. The others are for completing a segment perfectly or going beyond the call of duty, and these are almost too generous, considering the difficulty of the game. The issue is the XBOX One’s default 1000G per game regardless of their triple A or indie status. Some of these achievement are miss-able, and you’ll need to restart that chapter.

Notable Achievements
Brothers’ Keeper (Save your entire platoon during the battle of Somme) – 70G
King of the Hill 145 (Shoot the German flag with the cannon at Vimy’s Ridge) – 55G

-iRogan