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01 September, 2015

InFlux Review - It's Like Journey With Better Puzzles

A moody atmosphere doesn't need to come at the expense of a good challenge. InFlux takes the aesthetic appeal of a game like Journey without skimping on the puzzles.

I'm going to come right out and say it: I didn't really "get" Journey. For whatever reason, the critical darling just didn't click with me. It was, and still is, a beautiful game, and I have the utmost respect for the way it conveys story and direction through environmental cues rather than obnoxious tutorials, but the resonant emotional connection that moved many players passed me by. Listening to fellow gamers wax poetic on the game's transcendent undertones, I began to think I must be some sort of a cold, loveless monster with no soul to speak of.

Fortunately, that's not the case. Journey didn't enthrall me, but it turns out I just needed a slightly different sort of game to pluck my heartstrings.

That game was InFlux. Developed by Impromptu Games, an independent studio based in Melbourne Australia that works with collaborators across the world, the game was funded in part by Film Victoria through its Games Investment Programme - an initiative designed to bolster Australia's fledgling stake in the games industry. As an exploration-focused adventure in which you guide a small metal ball through gorgeous environments on a quest of enigmatic purpose, InFlux utilises mood and atmospheric storytelling in much the same way as Journey, while differentiating itself with a greater emphasis on puzzle solving.

These puzzles exist in one of two varieties, either emerging naturally from the world in the form of perilous rivers that must be crossed and volcanic vents that must be fed, or presented more explicitly inside glass-walled test chambers that appear as curious artificial incursions on the otherwise organic landscape.

30 August, 2015

Ski Safari 2 Review - Play it again Sven!

Sleepy Z Studios return to the slopes in style.

The word safari is derived from the Arabic safara, meaning "to travel." It's a wholly appropriate word for Sleepy Z Studios' series, as you sure do cover some ground. The original was a hit for the studio (and publisher Defiant Development) back in 2012, and for good reason - the sense of free flowing speed mixed well with the warm fuzzy, fun vibe. While the one-touch simplicity made it one of the genre's stand out titles. So much so we featured it in Grab It Episode 3's top ten auto-runners on iPad.

Sleepy Z has gone down the self-publishing route for this sequel, and at the time of writing the studio's humble little follow up was sitting comfortably in the number one spot for paid games on both the Australian and French App Stores. Ski Safari 2 is off and moving fast right from the get go, much like the game's main character, Sven. Should you follow suit joining the Aussies and French, by starting to sleep with your skis on? We think so, and here's why.

29 August, 2015

Blues and Bullets: Episode One Review – Number One with A Bullet

This noir adventure from A Crowd of Monsters brings thrills to PC and Xbox One.

Blues and Bullets is the gaming equivalent of Frankenstein; a strange mash-up of bits and pieces that manages to form something greater than the sum of its parts. It seriously feels like someone at A Crowd of Monsters threw a bunch of random story ideas and gameplay elements at the wall to see what would stick. But, you know what, it works. In fact, it more than just works. Blues and Bullets is shaping up to be one of my favourite games of 2015. 

Trying to describe Blues and Bullets is no easy task. Like an overpacked burrito, the team at A Crowd of Monsters have taken an incredible amount of inspiration from some of their favourite games and stuffed it into their own experience. Expect to find plenty of nods to genre classics like Max Payne, BioShock (now available on iOS), L.A. Noire and even James Bond. But at its very soul, Blues and Bullets plays out like a hard-boiled, detective novel with more than a dash of Frank Miller-esque noir inspiration. We've seen it all before, but this one is special. 

25 August, 2015

Xeodrifter Review - Dark Souls Meets Super Metroid

Xeodrifter treads the line between being empowering and frustrating, but which side does it end up on?

Rare is the game these days that refuses to hold your hand. The tutorial is nigh ubiquitous and often insufferably droll: I groan every time I'm forced to trudge through another unskippable diatribe on the mechanics of analogue camera control. For first-time gamers, these directions might be useful, but for the vast majority of players, they're just irritating. It seems foolish that for all the advances games have made, there is no established convention for bypassing the boot-camp overtures and getting straight into the action, for both the veteran gamer and those of us who prefer to wing it rather than absorb the manual.

Unfortunately, this trend of underestimating the competence of players isn't limited to tutorials. The Call of Duty campaigns are regularly referred to as corridor shooters, funnelling players through scripted sequence after scripted sequence and offering little to no agency over direction or pacing - players can't even open doors on their own, instead having to wait for AI companions to do it for them. The Gears of War series introduced the idea of "points of interest," scripted events that pluck the player from the moment so they can stare impotently at a story beat. Other games have taken that concept even further, wresting control away from the player entirely in order to highlight an explosion or showcase physics in action as a building collapses in on itself.

By severing the player's connection with their avatar, these moments reinforce the fact that you're not in control, that you're only following a path someone else laid out for you. I don't know about you, but for me there's nothing more immersion-breaking than being reminded your sense of control is just an illusion.

This is where Xeodrifter comes in. From the get-go, the gorgeous 8-bit throwback to Super Metroid foments an air of desolation and loneliness, and not once does it jeopardise this mood with excessive explanation or exposition. After a swift overview of your dilemma - stuck in space with pieces of your ship's warp drive scattered across four planets - the game ceases to offer any direction whatsoever, leaving the task of deciphering the controls, mechanics and the very nature of the game itself up to you alone. Aside from a tiny info box appearing every time a new power-up is obtained, learning is achieved purely through trial and error.

23 August, 2015

PAC-MAN 256 Review - Endless, F2P and Packing a Laser, PAC-MAN Enters the 21st Century

It takes a pretty big pair of power pellets to take on the task of reinventing an icon of gaming history. With Internet rage on a constant hair trigger, even a slight misstep in the treatment of such an icon could mean a career killer - and the list of competitors occupying the same lofty tier of reverence as PAC-MAN are few. We would suggest Mario, Space Invaders, and possibly Sonic for that short list.

So how did the partnership of studios Hipster Whale and 3 Sprockets - no doubt under the watchful eye of IP owner Bandai Namco - do? Is PAC-MAN relevant again, or should the makers of Crossy Road and Cubemen be looking for day jobs?

18 August, 2015

The Talos Principle Review

Just when you're ready to love Croteam's puzzler, something will give you cause to hate.

A love-hate relationship is defined as interchangeable or concurrent feelings of both love and hate in a relationship. Croteam’s The Talos Principle, a narrative-driven, first-person puzzler that is about as existential as it gets, will certainly ignite these conflicting emotions. Furthermore, if it doesn’t make you question life as you know it, the fact that it was inexplicably developed by the same folks that brought you the hyper-violent Serious Sam series should.

The Talos Principle is often touted as the spiritual successor to Portal, which got a lot of people, including me, excited. It begins with Elohim - a disembodied voice that declares itself Creator - waking you and prompting you to walk the path to enlightenment, promising ascension to a higher realm of existence for your compliance in completing its will. The only thing missing is cake, so in many ways it does come across as nothing more than a re-skinned Portal.

04 August, 2015

Fort Meow Review - Damn, Dirty Cats

Angry Birds meets Plants vs. Zombies in this feline frenzy.

Throughout history, no war has been waged more ferociously than that between man and cat. Having owned a number of cats I can attest to their amazing ability to kick my blood pressure into overdrive in an instant, even while coming across as aloof and insipid creatures. But perhaps one of the most hotly contested battles is that for precious lap space. Even while trying to write this review, I shooed away a cat multiple times. No clear winner has ever emerged. This ongoing struggle lies at the heart of Fort Meow.

23 July, 2015

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father - 20th Anniversary Edition Review

After 20 long years, does Gabriel Knight still stack up as one of the best adventure games of all time?

The iOS version of the game - which released on 23 July 2015 - was reviewed

Over the past few years, the announcement of the latest “classic game” to be remastered has become as predictable as an annualised entry in the Call of Duty series. But when done right remasters have a lot to offer, appealing to rusted-on fans while hopefully bringing new converts into the fold. So what happens when a facelift is applied to a 20-year old game like Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father? Is it a feeble attempt to turn back the clock, or a masterpiece of the finest calibre? Well, just like any sort of cosmetic surgery, Gabriel Knight may look beautiful on the outside but it doesn’t always mask the underlying flaws.

19 July, 2015

Rocket League Review - Keeping It Simple, Stupid

What do remote controlled cars and football have in common?

Sometimes simple pleasures are the best. The first sip of an ice-cold Coke on a hot day. The kiss of the sun's rays on naked skin. The doughy embrace of a soft couch and the comfort of a pair of baggy sweatpants after a long day in stiff work attire. Done right, an appeal to base human desires can be infinitely more satisfying than any heady brew of complex emotions. I don't know about you, but I can't think of anything I'd rather do on a cold, wet morning than bury myself under the covers and sleep until Summer.

Developer Psyonix clearly understands this preference for the simpler things. Its latest game, Rocket League, embodies perfectly the virtues of focusing on the basics. What could be more elementary than rocket-powered remote controlled cars kicking around a giant exploding soccer ball? Okay, so maybe the conceit isn't the most primal of enticements, but the mentality behind it is as straightforward as you can get. Sports are fun. Toy cars are fun. Explosions are fun. Throw them all together and you've got yourself the makings of a pretty tasty experience.

12 July, 2015

Magic Duels: Origins Review - 5 Stars

Can the grandfather of collectible card games make a triumphant return to form, especially in the face of heightened competition in recent years from the likes of Hearthstone?

It doesn’t seem all that long ago we were getting excited for Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers. But a year has already passed and with it comes the latest iteration in this long running collectible card game (CCG), Magic Duels: Origins. True to its nature, Origins doesn’t deviate from the well polished Magic: The Gathering formula. But more than any other version of Magic, Wizards of the Coast has stripped away layer after layer of complexity to welcome new players into the fold. This alone makes Origins the definitive digital version of Magic.

Also read: The Making of Magic: The Gathering - Our Wizards of the Coast Exclusive in Episode 6.

Casting our minds back to last year’s entry, we called Magic 2015 an excellent digital adaptation of the physical version of the game. Yet for all of its established history, Magic was a recent newcomer to the digital space. Accordingly, it lacked some of the simplicity and features boasted by its rivals, notably the massive Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.

Interestingly, the first thing I noticed in Origins is the clear nod to other CCGs. In particular, fans of both Magic and Hearthstone will notice some striking similarities between the two games, especially around the streamlined interface and how cards can be obtained (more on that soon). As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Heathstone's popularity is impossible to ignore. This makes Magic a far more attractive proposition for newcomers to gently ease into the game, whether they be complete newbies to the CCG genre or making the leap from Hearthstone.

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