Friday, 24 October 2014

Qora Review (PC)

Written by - Thomas G.J Sharpe

It sounds like a popular meat substitute brand, Qora, and after the two hours it took me to complete, I am none-the-wiser as to the reason for it. I’ll tell you something from the off, though, Qora is a superb example of what can get lost in the (for want of a better made-up word) cinematographising of video games (yeah, that's right, use that one on your grandmother); writer's voice.

As Qora is a interactive story/adventure, with a dusting of light platforming, the dialogue, pacing and overall narrative should be the most developed. Further than that, the now familiar home-spun pixel vibe, will serve the usual love-it-hate-it division, so the cracking writing from Holden Boyles is thankfully present and correct. On your curious adventure, from a village to a mysterious temple and to more abstract settings, the characters you meet are snappy and exciting. At times it reminded me of the great old point-and-click dialogue from Simon The Sorcerer or the usual Lucasarts suspects. Though not a long experience, Qora is worth the purchase for this aspect alone.

The game centres around a silent protagonist, who has moved to a quaint mountain village. Strange events occur leading you to discover the secrets of the temple nearby, all the while meeting bizarre characters, using a sort of past-vision to catch glimpses of history and a bunch of odd deities and ghosts. The backgrounds are incredible, especially in the darker settings. The situations of high contrast environments play to the strengths of the design, whereas sometimes the outside, daylight situations can fall a tad flat. I ached for a little more character-scenery interaction at times, dust or particles would have really made it sparkle, but the aesthetic ties itself together consistently and effectively. The sound design is at times clunky, but generally good - where as the music is nicely pitched and serves the entire experience well.

The gameplay itself will either numb and infuriate you into considering this “not a game” or an “interactive story”, a place filled with other such titles that confused consumers, or it will service a quaint story. I felt the latter, and never once felt like I was pushing a button for more narrative pellets, even though it is essentially what you do. The platforming is mild, the movement mechanics are primitive, yet the world created touched me in a way only great games can. Thoughtful, absurd and charming, Qora is soaked in one man's humour and occult-lite. One moment depicting an execution had me laughing out loud, the comic timing was spot on.

Don't be put off by what may seem yet another DIY pixel-art adventure, this feels more sincere than most. I'd expect to see this fitting very nicely in a Humble Bundle at some point, in the company of other games like this, perhaps Thirty Flights of Loving or To The Moon. If you are at all a fan of story heavy, pixel-art heavy or the absurd, then you could do several tonnes worse than pick up Qora, but the challenge may be convincing your friends when you excitedly recommend it. Its a personal, short, but pleasingly strange title.


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Lone Survivor Review (Wii U)

The horror genre has been on a downward spiral in recent times. The series stalwarts of Resident Evil and Silent Hill have seemingly passed their best and what we are left with is an ever increasing amount of creatures to gun down or cheap shocks we have seen before. Lone Survivor aims to change that by taking a different approach. 

Presented in a side on, 2D, 8-bit style, Lone Survivor is the story of a man trying to escape a disease ridden city where monstrous creatures roam the streets and corridors. It’s very much set in the psychological horror mould and uses a subtle script and clever use of music to try to get inside your head. You might wonder how a game with 8-bit graphics can be scary but when it works it certainly does make you feel decidedly uneasy.

Before starting the game it asks you to set up your playing environment. If you can, you need to be in a dark place and to also use headphones. We would say that it’s also much better to play it via the Wii U game pad, as when it’s running on a large high definition screen it really doesn’t work as well. You can change the size of the game window but this is clearly a game more suited to a smaller screen. It’s also worth working out the best gamma settings as if you get it wrong you are not going to be able to make out much of what is on screen. The settings can be adjusted mid game as well to find the right sweet spot. The 8-bit graphics have their charm but they can be a total nightmare in trying to work out exactly what it is you are looking at.

The game itself plays out like a point and click adventure game where you actually move around. You’ll be looking for items to take to somewhere else, normally to unlock a route or door to the next area. There is also combat and stealth mechanics to get past the monsters. As you might expect, ammo is limited and firing the gun makes all the monsters in the screen come charging after you so it’s often wise to try and sneak past them.

There are also a number of different systems working away under the surface of the game. The main one of these is your characters sanity. At the end of the game you’ll get one of a number of different endings based on how high or low it is. It goes up or down depending on certain actions you take such as eating and resting properly, or taking the different pills that you find around the world.
Food and sleep are also key components in your adventure. If your character doesn’t eat regularly he gets hungry, which can lead him to not sleep properly or collapse. When you sleep you save your game but doing it when you are not tired also affects your sanity meter so there is a constant risk reward systems at play. If you go on a long trek and discover a load of things but aren’t tired you risk either losing sanity or dying in an upcoming encounter and having to retrace your steps.

Luckily for players there are mirrors, which act as teleport points spread throughout the world. This makes moving around a little easier but having to retrace steps to find items lost after death is still a frustration which doesn’t do much to enhance the flow of the game. This frustration also increases when you get stuck in an area you simply can’t get out of without dying. 

The other main issue with the game is simply the environment. You are effectively, continually walking up and down dark corridors for the whole game. There are only a couple of enemy types and the game gets more difficult by pretty much just giving you a longer corridor with more monsters in to avoid.  This isn’t a major issue until you get stuck and repeatedly die somewhere, then the feeling of repetition can kick in and this takes away from the overall experience.

Faults aside, when it works (and it does most of the time), this is the closest you’re going to get to the feeling of dread and unease found in the early Silent Hill games. It’s creepy and you never for one moment feel safe. There’s a lot to juggle with food, sleep, ammo, batteries and sanity and a number of side quests and different endings to experience. If you’re looking for something different then this is the game for you. Just make sure you play it on the gamepad as it’s much more effective in the dark with the headphones on.

Overall  8/10

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Sacred Tears TRUE Review (PC)

Sacred Tears is a traditional styled JPG that follows the story of two friends as they work their way to becoming master thieves. Styled like a 16-bit RPG of old there is a bit of magic around it and it certainly tries to do a few things differently. 

The look of the game suits the source material well and the pixel styled graphics catapults you back to the golden age of 16-bit RPGS. However, there is a distinct lack of graphical options and throwing the game into full screen mode makes everything seem horrible blurry. This isn’t great and is something that really should have been considered as not many people are going to want to use the tiny windowed mode that is available.

The way the game plays will also take a lot of getting used to. Combat is resolved around a card system with the player picking cards to represent attacking, defending, magic and special attacks. The higher the number of the card the better, as if it is stronger than the opponents then that is what will happen in the turn. The problem is it all seems a bit random and levelling up doesn’t really seem to do much to alter your card hand. When you get a hand full of ones it does make you wonder exactly what you are meant to do. If you die in combat it’s straight back to the menu screen as well which only compounds the frustration.

You can save anywhere which helps and levels are broken up in chapters but we felt very little progress with regard to the development of our character in terms of their combat abilities and everything just felt too random to be fun. That isn’t to say we didn’t enjoy any of our time with the game as the general adventure is a good one and the tale engaging- it’s just there is so much to put up with in order to enjoy it.

There are a whole host of systems at work within Sacred Tear to engage with as well. There are alchemy sections and the aim of saving up money is a key goal. There’s also a ton of side quests and extra things to do to gain more treasure and level up. So for those that do make a breakthrough in the game there is more than enough to keep you busy for a fair old while.

The real strength of the game is in the script and storytelling. Characters are charming and they interact well together. The world they inhabit is also interesting and filled with engaging characters. If you can get past some of the games problems there is certainly a tale of daring adventure to be experienced but it’s going to take some dedication to see it. 

Overall, The Sacred Tear TRUE certainly has some charm but we found it far too difficult to get into and make progress with. You’ll likely stick with it for a while due to the high standard of writing and characterisation but the core mechanics left us cold. With the combat system being such a chore it’s likely only a matter of time before you throw in the towel and look to something else to get your adventuring kicks from. A real shame as there is undoubted potential here.

Overall 6/10

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Pix the Cat Review (PS Vita)

The Vita has become a home for quirky and fun arcade experiences over the last few years but we’re not sure we’ve seen anything quite like Pix the Cat before. A sort of strange hybrid of Chu Chu Rocket, Snake and Pacman during his neon phase, it’s one odd cookie of a game and all the better for it.

The game has a simple premise – that being to get Pix the Cat to crack open eggs by moving around the squares of an enclosed arena and thus collect the ducklings within. The ducklings then follow in your footsteps and act like your tail would in Snake. You have to lead the ducklings to safe spots on the grid while avoiding dangers or getting yourself trapped in corners. It’s a simple premise but one that works very well.

If you can get all the chicks in a stage following you around you get a bonus. This also acts to speed up your cat. Your cat also speeds up every time he makes a sharp turn meaning that the game is constantly getting faster and faster. Once all the chicks in an area have been delivered home you can dive through a door to the next area and continue the hunt for points. Ever deeper you go with points stacking up, neon pulsing and music blaring away, all the while with a clock continually counting down to the end of your run.

Hitting your tail, an enemy or getting trapped in a corner doesn’t kill you but instead means you lose your points for the ducklings you are carrying and your combo meter drops. If you can keep the combo going long enough you’ll see the screen change to a sort of x-ray state and this allows Pix to crash into enemies for big points (like eating a super pill in Pacman).

As well as the arcade part of the game there is also the lab mode which is more of a puzzle type of thing. Here you have a par number of moves to try and aim for to solve a self-contained puzzle. It’s a change of pace from the normal pulsating action but one that is a more than welcome addition to the core formulae. 

As you progress and gain higher scores more and more options become available to you. You can play with both your and your friend’s ghosts on the screen from their best runs, alter the voices and drop into a number of additional modes. It all adds up to a nice package of bite sized arcade action. Our only really gripe is that there isn’t much here that going to appeal to people who don’t want to chase high scores as the level layout of the stages doesn’t really change apart from occasionally mirroring itself.

Overall, Pix the Cat is an unexpected and delightful addition to the Vita library. It’s taken the core elements from a few classic games and managed to create something fun and exciting from them. It’s not going to appeal to everyone but for those of you looking for a score attack game this could be the one to have you hooked for a very long time to come.

Overall 8/10