Review | Team Sonic Racing [Updated]

While I generally find kart racers fun, I wouldn’t call myself a serious fan of them. Two exceptions to this are the original Crash Team Racing, which was one of my favourite games as a child, and the thoroughly enjoyable Sonic and All-Stars: Racing Transformed.

Although Team Sonic Racing (TSR) was made by the same development team as Racing Transformed, Sumo Digital, I was pessimistic about it before release. When I briefly played TSR at EGX 2018, I felt like it might be unable to differentiate itself from other kart racers. At the time, my opinion was: “Sumo Digital promise that unlockable parts will let you change your car’s looks and performance, but that’s just not the same as turning your car into an aeroplane.”

I wanted to be proved wrong, but unfortunately I can’t say that the game has done enough to change my mind. Before I follow that train of thought, I’ll explain what TSR actually is, and what it does well. 

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Review | Tyler: Model 005

This is another tag-team review from me and Adoboros; he handled the controls of Tyler: Model 005, while I helped to solve the puzzles. This review has gameplay spoilers and minor story spoilers.

During its opening sequence Tyler: Model 005 (which I’ll shorten to TM5) presents itself as a charming puzzle-platformer with a sympathetic main character — dormant robot Tyler, who wakes up confused and amnesiac after an electrical surge.

Your job as the player is to explore the house which Tyler awakens inside and to figure out what’s going on, solving environmental puzzles to access more of the house and turn on more light sources. Tyler is tiny enough to hide inside a coffee cup, making even small rooms seem vast to him, so the game’s setting isn’t as cramped as you might expect from its description.

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Review | Borderlands : Game Of The Year Edition (2019)

Even though I’ve previously enjoyed playing Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (via co-op), I could never say the same about the original. In solo attempts, I would get stuck at about 10% campaign completion because I couldn’t navigate through the open world. Playing with friends often failed due to lag and frame rate issues. However, after two friends who adore the series both gave me rave reviews of Borderlands: Game Of The Year Edition, I joined them to try a co-op campaign again.

As there was already a Borderlands: Game Of The Year Edition in 2010, I found the name re-use illogical, especially as the 2010 release is still on sale. To avoid confusion, I’ll use Borderlands to mean the series/games in general, “the original Borderlands” to mean the 2009 release, and GOTY to mean the 2019 release. But that’s a minor issue, so I’ll get on to the actual game.

Because GOTY is a remaster rather than a remake, the core gameplay, mechanics and plot are left untouched. The story retains its sparse exposition, as well as its odd pace – it still idles for most of the game then jumps to its full intensity during the last half hour. But the impactful gunplay, chaotic elemental effects, irreverent dialogue and deranged enemies are just as entertaining as in the original Borderlands. Customising your character’s build in co-op to get full-team boosts and combine each player’s abilities allows lots of opportunities to experiment with setups and weapons (and plenty of comedy from Brick’s melee adventures).

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Review | The Swapper

Full disclosure: due to my ineptness at puzzle platformers, the helpful Adoboros handled puzzle-solving, while I watched and occasionally gave him useful ideas.

When launching The Swapper, the first thing I noticed was its atmosphere (pun not intended). It’s not horror-game-tense or oppressive. Instead it’s somber and melancholy, a tone I’m unused to seeing in games. The next thing I noticed was its uncommon style. Every location and character model was hand-made in clay then digitized through photographs to create a unique world. It’s diffcult to understand just how much work went in to crafting the game, especially as it runs at 60 frames per second.

The Swapper opens as a lone astronaut is ejected into space inside an escape pod. When the pod lands, you take control of the silent astronaut, and start to explore the doomed spaceship Theseus. The remaining crew are hiding in a sealed chamber, so your path is isolated and your exploration uninterrupted … until the scenery starts asking philosophical questions.

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Review | Forza Horizon 4

If you’ve ever played a Forza Horizon game, the core of Forza Horizon 4 is pleasantly familiar. Its most important aspects — its cars and locations — are as impressive as you would expect. FH4 refines the classic Horizon open-world gameplay and extends it across even more environments, taking you from muddy cross-country treks to snowy hills and frozen lakes.

Showcase races, which place you against showstopper competitors like planes and hovercraft, also return. Although these are fun displays featuring ingenious opponents, the showcases occupy an awkward middle ground between a setpiece spectacle and a race. Showcase races are focused on putting you and your opponent in the right positions for dramatic jump scenes and conflict points, which detracts from their stated role as a race. I have a game clip of myself trailing a Showcase opponent yet suddenly being switched to first place as a race ended. It’s a minor gripe, but that kind of switching makes Showcases feel somewhat dishonest — I believe the Showcases would have been better if they were purely a spectacle, rather than being a mixture of race and setpiece.

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Review | Spec Ops: The Line

Last week, I finally played Spec Ops: The Line (only 6 years late!). I’d heard about its ambitious, ethically challenging story, but I’d tried to avoid spoilers. Going into the game, I knew one thing; I would have to make choices that I wouldn’t want to make.

I was expecting tough choices from The Line. However, I wasn’t expecting false choices. The Line contains a mid-game scene where protagonist Walker (and by extension, the player) is treated as if they can choose between two actions, even though the game mechanics allow only one. In the next dilemma, the game lets you continue assuming that only one choice is possible; this time, you could have done something else.

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Review | Onrush

The ingredients of Onrush are simple. Start with the frenzied speed and crashes of Burnout: Revenge, and mix in the co-operative objectives of Overwatch. Add cartoonish, Fortnite-styled character models and emotes, then finish with cosmetic loot boxes.

Onrush is a co-operative racing combat game, where players succeed by carrying out team-based objectives. It promises relentless speed and chaotic battles. It vows to keep you in the action at all times. So, how does Onrush achieve the goal of continual speed? And what does it feel like to play?

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Insomnia63 Gaming Festival

This weekend I had the brand new experience of going to the Insomnia Gaming Festival. Having never been to any gaming events or tournaments, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I had a full weekend ticket, so I was there from Friday morning until Sunday afternoon.

As families often attend over just Saturday and Sunday, Friday was a fairly quiet introduction to the festival environment. We were able to get our bearings and explore the arena, and we could try all but the largest activities without queuing.

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Review | Three Fourths Home

Three Fourths Home is about that conversation you always wish you’d started, and that regret you might not be able to repair. More literally, it’s about talking, driving, and closure.

TFH is a piece of interactive fiction with a simple premise: protagonist Kelly is on her way home from visiting her grandparents’ now-empty house when a storm approaches. Kelly’s mum calls to locate her, and their struggle to communicate forces their complicated family dynamics to unravel there and then. The entire game is held within this one conversation; as Kelly, all you can do is keep driving and keep talking.

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Science in Video Gaming: What makes Overwatch special?

Although I’m both a science nerd and a video game fan, those interests don’t intersect often. Scientist characters in video games are often feared (or laughed at) from a distance, rather than being understandable or sympathetic. Worse, they are usually locked into two narrow roles:

The “Mad scientist” –  a friendly yet distant and absent-minded tinkerer, whose inventions take on a life of their own or wind up as destructive rather than helpful.

The “Bad scientist”- a character who focuses entirely on their intellect and considers themselves superior to non-scientists. They can be obsessed with finishing their research or completing their next latest invention, regardless of its use or consequences. Many take utiliarianism to an extreme, seeing no problem with immoral or hurtful acts if they might achieve a greater good.

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Tony Hawk’s Project 8: A Child’s-Eye-View of Skateboarding?

Recently I spent a few days on Tony Hawk’s Project 8 for the Xbox 360. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Although many reviews described Project 8 as a realistic return to form for the Tony Hawk series, I perceived it as strangely unrealistic; busier, sillier, and closer to the Jackass-inspired THUG2 than I recalled*. However, I couldn’t describe why I felt this way- something about the level design and gameplay just seemed “odd”.

While thinking about this, I remembered a video I watched months ago. The video, from the channel Errant Signal, discussed why the author found Burnout Paradise more appealing than other racing games.To the author, Burnout Paradise represented the childlike aspects of enjoying cars: rather than being a serious reproduction of aesthetically pleasing supercars, it instead felt like the world of a child playing with their toy cars.

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Yu-Gi-Oh! | Deckbuilding + Selling

When it comes to selling Yu-Gi-Oh! online, selling decks is more complicated than selling singles and playsets. This is because an eBay listing for a deck can mean at least three different things:

1) A high-end competitive deck for tournament play.  These decks will have every card needed for advanced combos and strategies used in the archetype and may include “tournament-staple” expensive cards such as Pot of Desires (currently $60 for one). Many are advertised as OTK- (one-turn-kill) decks.

2) A low-end beginner deck for those just starting the game. These range in quality and utility- some may be made solely from cards in the archetype, regardless of how useful those cards are or what other cards could improve it. Some may contain only the archetype’s most common monsters, alongside other generic monsters and spells/traps. As a result, a poor beginner’s deck can lack playability because it may not have the cards necessary to understand the archetype’s key mechanic or it may have only parts of important combos.

3) An awkward middle ground which may sometimes be called “budget competitive”. Decks here can occupy any potential point between 1 and 2. Lower-end ones will be playable, just nowhere near competitive standard. Higher-end ones may have all the commonly-used monsters of an archetype, and one or two copies of higher-priced monsters, without having the Pot of Desires-style overkill cards. They should contain the key mechanic and combo of the deck, but they will probably lack advanced-level setups.

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Yu-Gi-Oh! | Maximum Crisis release

The newest YGO set, Maximum Crisis (MACR), came out recently and, as expected, it’s got more powerful monsters than previous sets. After seeing just how game-breaking this set’s boss monster is,  I feel like “Maximum Crisis” also describes Konami’s strategy right now.

MACR seems like the pinnacle of current-format YGO- “peak Yu-Gi-Oh”, if you will. But there’s still two more sets to go before the first Link-format booster box and I have no idea how anything could possibly compete with, let alone defeat, the MACR boss monster.

macr-en039-supreme-king-z-arc-p256289-242266_medium.jpg

I obtained one copy of the boss- Supreme King Z-Arc – from a MACR box, so let’s have a look at him.

The first thing I noticed was the unique (for now) purple and green colour combination, which makes Z-Arc both a Fusion and a Pendulum monster. As Synchro-Pendulum and XYZ-Pendulum hybrids were introduced in previous sets from the current series, Fusion-Pendulum wasn’t too surprising.

The numbers are where things start to get interesting, as a base ATK and DEF of 4000 puts Z-Arc comfortably in the strongest 1% of released cards. In theory, Z-Arc can take down a monster-less opponent in two turns.

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Anti-Deskbot Deck Construction #2

Following on from the first post, here’s my attempt to build a deck that can hold its own against Deskbots.

Strategies

Given the high ATK values of Deskbots, attacking them head-on is almost guaranteed to go badly. Therefore the best approach seems to be a mixture of;

  • cards which can attack directly to avoid confronting Deskbot 003.
  • cards which can do damage outside of the battle phase to avoid Deskbot 009’s effect-negation.
  • cards which can prevent other cards from being destroyed by battle.
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Anti-Deskbot Deck Construction #1

After losing countless matches to my friend’s Deskbot deck thanks to his ability to reach 15,000 ATK by turn 5, the idea of building an anti-Deskbot deck has been tempting me recently.

However, I’ve never built a counter- or anti- deck before, let alone one for an archetype this strong. Because of this, my first step needed to be figuring out the components of a Deskbot deck, in order to find what type of cards and effects may be useful against their traits.

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No Man’s Sky – Who was to blame?

Just like the rest of the internet, I’m going to talk about No Man’s Sky...

More specifically, about the 1.1 update announced today.

1.1, known as the Foundation update, will add two new modes (Creative and Survival) to the main game and will introduce a Base Building feature, while adding features to existing mechanics like farming. Foundation also promises to improve multiple parts of the resource management side of the game, by making resources easier to store, automate and use. The patch list is one of the longest I’ve ever seen.

A recap for anyone who needs it: the pre-release material for No Man’s Sky set 2016’s largest hype-cycle in motion. Every showcased aspect – from its spectacular graphics, to its appearance of a living and shareable world, to the interviews and quotes from Hello Games which never gave specific information about what would or wouldn’t be part of the game – converged to give the impression that NMS would be “all games to all people”. It created a sort of excited vagueness which allowed consumers to expect NMS be amazing while not knowing exactly what it would consist of; a recipe for disappointment.

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Overwatch #2 – Learning Curves

In case the last post didn’t say it loud enough, I’m a fan of Overwatch. Being able to feel myself learning new things while playing is a powerful motivator to keep going and play better, unlike the Russian Roulette gameplay of COD, where simply spawning in the wrong place can get you killed instantly. So, here’s what I’ve been learning so far.

Role Variety

As I’m not much of a PC gamer, and have never played any MOBA-type games before, I’m not very familiar with character types. While I knew that characters can generally be split into the roles of DPS (damage output), Tanks (taking a lot of damage), and Support (healing or buffing the team), I didn’t really know anything beyond that.

I expected Overwatch to follow that three-type structure, so finding that it actually has 4 main roles, as well as characters which overlap aspects of multiple roles, made it interesting for me. However, it also meant I played some characters really badly at first!

The most obvious difference for me was trying to play as Winston; at first, I assumed from his size that he was purely a tank character. However, trying to play him as a tank failed- trying to jump into a fight just meant I died very quickly, and even my Ultimate ability didn’t seem to help. However, talking to one of my friends about which characters we liked showed me how wrong I was. Firstly, figuring out that Winston wasn’t purely as a tank, but intended to be a disruptor – a role I never knew existed in character ensembles- helped me understand how his moves worked. This helped me figure out how to do better in Control and how to use his shield and his Ultimate; this meant my next game with Winston set my personal best for eliminations.

Another example is support-of-all-trades character Lucio. While I like playing as dedicated healer Mercy in short bursts, she’s at her best when she’s invisible, flying around the edges of the battlefield like a counter-Tracer. Being Lucio, on the other hand, means I get to both be part of the action and help my teammates out with extra healing and shields.

The same logic applies to a number of other characters, a common example being Tracer. FPS logic dictates that you charge in and make kills, but playing Tracer that way will just get you killed. Rather than straightforward attacking, she’s a disruptive, evasive attacker, hovering around the edges of a fight chipping away at everyone in turn.

Team Focus

Unlike in standard FPSs, and even like Battleborn where the objectives can often be ignored, Overwatch relies on playing to the objective. This means learning how characters work as part of the team is essential. For me, that learning curve has mostly been from my favourite character, Mei.

Playing Mei as a beginner, especially with groups of random players, meant running around putting walls in places that made sense to me, but not the rest of the team. Initially, she seems like a defender whose job might be to hide in a control point repeatedly blocking its entry points. However, that approach isn’t the strongest, and also gets pretty boring.

After a few matches of practice, it’s easy to have fun making cheap shots such as blocking the enemies running towards the team . However, as this blocks the team from attacking those enemies, an impulsive Mei player (like me) could easily end up making enemies of their own team.

Now that I’ve played as her more, and watched other people play her, her ability to help the team is much easier to see. For one thing, her walls aren’t just for blocking routes, but for accessing them too. They can act as temporary platforms, letting Mei and other less-mobile characters jump to alternate entry points usually reserved for more agile characters like Widowmaker and Lucio. (I discovered one use of this approach by accident, when I misplaced a wall;instead of blocking the enemy exit door, I instead pushed the friend stood in front of the door upwards which let him jump into the ledge above the door. So we’re going to test that in a future game, with him using Torbjorn or Bastion to create an early disruption.)

I’ve also found, through YouTube guides, many more ways to play Mei as a defender of other teammates rather than focusing on self-defense. In one video, the Mei player had quick enough reactions to put a wall in between a character hooked by Roadhog and Roadhog himself, which blocked the friendly characters path and prevented them from being stunned by Roadhog.

While Mei and Lucio are gentle introductions to team tactics, playing Mercy means being thrown in at the deep end. Even though the team may be able to scrape together some healing in Mercy’s absence, Mercy’s ability to escape danger relies upon seeing another teammate. Playing as Mercy, if you wander off, you’re target practice.

Character Combinations

While I doubt I’ll have the reaction times for blocking Roadhog’s hook, I’ve had some success using Mei’s walls to deliberately block off a friendly Bastion, giving him the 3 uninterrupted seconds he needed to self-heal. With friends, we’ve found “our” characters, so working out which combinations of preferred characters are strongest together will be our next step. At the moment, we often play Winston/Winston/Tracer when we’re on Attack or Control (although this can be risky) while favouring Mei/Roadhog/Bastion during Defence matches.

Looking for ways I can combine the effects of different characters is part of the game I’m finding very interesting, although having only played as 5 of the characters so far means I have little to go on for many of the others. So the best thing I can do to learn more about the game now is to try playing as everyone else. Well, that should be easy.

Overwatch #1 – First Impressions

It may be a bit early to say Game of the Year, but if Overwatch isn’t my favourite game this year I’ll be surprised.

I wasn’t expecting to like the game quite as much as I do- I was expecting to get bored fairly quickly after hearing there was no campaign. Yet I’ve had more fun on Overwatch than I have on games promising more content and variety.  A major part of the fun is precisely because Overwatch contains “less”.

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The Year of (Less) Gaming…

Follow-up to this post.

The previous post was at the end of last year, and my end of year reflection post kind of build on what I was already thinking in that post. In the last few months, where gaming was and where it should be is something I’ve been continuing to think about.

The main catalyst beyond the posts was in January. I had a conversation happen that was very much not what I’d hoped, and made me doubt everything, and feel pretty bad. This was right in the middle of January, while a few of my assignments were due.  I let feeling bad about it take over, and dealt with everything by isolating myself from people and gaming instead of doing my uni work.  For one of my essays, I didn’t put anywhere near as much effort into it as I could have, and ended up submitting it late. That meant the highest mark I could possibly get was the minimum pass mark- made more annoying by finding out later that it would have received a Merit.

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The Year of Gaming…

Yesterday, Xbox sent out round-up emails with stats about our year in Xbox. Usually, I’m interested in that kind of thing, but reading these stats was uncomfortable.

I’m in the top 5% for amount played, at about 1500 hours in 2015. I honestly didn’t expect to be that high a percentile, more like 15/20%. That number annoys me- at least 1/3 of those hours happened as deliberate escapism or inertia. What could I have done with them instead?

The first argument I’m using to justify it is “I don’t play as much as my friends do”. This is kind of true as amongst my group I had the lowest hours, and some had double the hours I did. However, the gap between my time and theirs is smaller than I expect. I’ve been the last person online at night quite a lot, even on nights where I was intending to do something else.

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