Sony’s PlayStation + service has offered games ranging from “pretty damn awful” (See my Review of Zombi from a while ago) to “pretty ok actually” (See my review of Furi from a while ago….i need the page views, ok). Personally, while I’ve kept adding the games to my library it has been a while since I’ve bothered to download and play any of them. Well, it seems like that might change next month as the two free games coming January are both pretty big names.
First up is “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided”. While i wasn’t as big on “Human Revolution” as most everyone else was but it wasn’t bad and i was very interested in seeing where the story went. While the game was pledged by controversy before it’s release (Which i wrote about….like i said, i need the page views) the reception upon launch was still rather positive.
The other game is Telltale’s Batman. This one i was a little worried about upon it’s original announcement, becuase i am so tired or “Mature” takes on Batman as they almost always turn him into a Frank Miller style violent sociopath that i find simply tiring. But from what I’ve heard that’s not what this does. I’m still not 100% sure i’m sold on the idea of Telltale doing a more action based franchise, but it is undoubtedly an interesting step for them to take.
All in all, it’s not a bad way to kick off the new year, especially for those who are going to be a little short on cash after the holidays….or just in general….god i hate being poor.
At this years D23, Disney showed new footage og Kingdom Hearts 3, including an extended bit set in the Toy Story universe. The game continues to look amazing, but the real interesting news came at the end of the trailer. While no hard date was given, they did announce that the game in scheduled to be released sometime in 2018. After a decade long wait it’s hard not to get excited by this news, but it’s also just as hard for me to believe this information. I’ve yet to see any English language footage, which has me worried the localization with end up delaying the game at some point. Even so, having a release window is preferable over the “sometime in the next 3 years” Square Enix last said for this and the upcoming Final Fantasy 7 remake.
By William Shelton
Systems: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer: Deck13 Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Obtained By: Review Code was Provided
If nothing else, The Surge provides the single best case study as to why gaming needs a stronger AA market. The game does a lot that I like and there’s a lot I want to applaud it for. But in the end there’s an overall lack of polish that makes actually recommending the game challenging. In a year that saw the similar but superior Nioh, I can’t recommend The Surge at it’s $60 price point. But I do think it’s worth a look.
If you couldn’t tell by the Nioh comparison, The Surge is a Soulslike action-RPG, which tells you about three quarters of what you need to know. Slow, weighty, animation driven combat; Metroidvainia style levels that incentives exploration and finding short cuts, you lose EXP/currency upon death, exc, exc. What you probably won’t be expecting is that this game has probably the best opening out of all the Soulslike games to have been released. And why would you: Deck 13’s last game, Lords of the Fallen, opened with a boring cinematic with no real bearing on the plot. The Surge’s opening, however, actually takes it’s cues from Half-Life. You sit patiently on a train as a video gives you an exposition dump. I know that doesn’t sound very exciting, but I felt the moment was close to perfection. The scene makes a pretty authentic case for the company the player character is about to work for, and there is an air of optimism that you know is going to soon be lost, and it’s all the more saddening because of this.
Once you get control of the character, you find they are wheelchair bound. While I’m sure the game will receive some criticism for how it ignores this after the games intro, I feel the reveal itself was expertly crafted. From there you go to getting the Elysium style exo-suit that will allow you to progress through the game and…here I’m kind of conflicted. The character is told an anesthetic will be provided for the surgery, but there isn’t, and you watch as all the pieces are bolted on, blood spraying every were while the character screams in torment. One one hand, this tonal whiplash serves the game well, establishing the right mood for the rest of the game. On the other, I really hate it when science fiction plays on this kind of technophobia. The dev team thought up a technology that can give a man the ability to walk again, then frames it as this horrifying thing that shouldn’t be touched. I’m sure most of this was to get players ready for the game to come, but with how much effort went into the rest of this scene, it sucks they stumbled here.
I’ll also admit this section could have been stretched out for a bit longer too. What’s here does manage to be really effective, but not having the players interact with any other living people before everything goes to shit wasn’t the best call. If the game had taken the time to establish some relationships with the NPC’s players found along the way, I think it would have been much more effective as a whole. If the game wants to have the story so front and center (even going so far as to have dialogue choices), then giving us some info about who these people are and why we should care about them is kind of important.
While everything interesting about the games story might have petered out after the opening moments, the gameplay managed to mostly hold my attention throughout. The games biggest success is it’s dismemberment mechanic. Unlike in other Soulslike games, you can’t just wait for armor or weapons to drop. Instead, you have to fight an enemy with the armor piece you’re looking to obtain, then weaken that body part in combat before being allowed to dismember the opponent in order to grab the schematics. Once you have those, you can build new armor pieces in the Medbay, the games safe zones.
This took some getting use too, as you have to lock on to an enemy, then manually target which part of the body you want to attack, but I soon found my self really enjoying how it all worked. It added a tactical edge to combat, as you could only get one new peace of armor from an enemy at a time, and there’s no knowing if the next time they will have the same load out. On top of that, you can attack unarmored body parts for extra damage. While I think there is something to be said about the depth Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Nioh get out of a relatively simple combat system, I can’t say I disliked the added complexity The Surge added to it’s one on one fights.
But once the game adds in another combatant things start to go down hill, and The Surge loves ambushing the player. Because of all the extra work involved in locking on to an enemy, there is no easy way to simply switch between two or more. So in order to switch targets, you have to unlock from one, manually move the camera onto the other, then lock on again. And that’s just the beginning of the game’s issues.
All of the games enemies have little cool down for their attack, and the animations for them rarely convey enough information to begin with. So getting hit in The Surge is almost an inevitability. Non-human enemies are even worse, as they tend to be designed in a way that makes reading their movements almost impossible. Only adding to this frustration is a number of glitches and some really bad design choices. More often than I can count the AI for enemies just seemed to turn off altogether and they just let me whale on them until they died. One enemy, when using a back flip attack that is meant to knock the player into the air, simply launched out of the game world entirely. And the second level is filled with robots you can only meaningfully harm from the back, but placed in tight corridors, making getting behind them a pain as I’d get stuck between them and the walls. This could have easily been fixed by widening the environments or making these enemies either smaller or slower so the player can more easily get around them.
Up grades are also handled pretty poorly. As you make your way through the game you collect “tech scrap” which can be used to increase your suits power and upgrade your weapons and armor. Increasing your suits core power allows you to use more armor and implants (swapable bonuses like health injections, increased stamina and more) as well as give you the ability to access more areas of each level. However, as you aren’t leveling up the character himself, the only way to increase attack or defense is to upgrade your armaments. And this gets annoying fast. For each piece you need scrap and an extra component. For armor this just means continuing to dismember enemies where you’re looking to upgrade. You want to boost your helmet? Chop off some heads! However, as you upgrade you need higher level materials, and I have no idea where to find them. To be fair, I’ve only made it to the third boss, but I’ve yet to find a single enemy that dropped level 3 materials for anything; weapons or armor. And speaking of upgrading your arsenal, I have literally no idea where I got the right pieces for that. You can’t target the enemies weapons, so where you’re supposed to find the upgrade materials for them is lost to me. Yet every so often I’ll find I have the means to upgrade something as if it’s just been added to my inventory out of the blue.
All of those issues aside, I do think the moment to moment gameplay manages to be pretty solid. That’s good to know, because finding out where you’re supposed to go in this train wreck is even more complicated than in any of the other Soulslike game I’ve played, so you’ll spend a lot of time in that gameplay loop. Unlike Dark Souls, each level only has one Medbay, and all the short cuts you find lead back to it. While this seems like it should make finding your way around easier, what it really ends up doing is creating confusion as you have to remember which of the interconnecting short cuts lead to where. So many of these shortcuts criss-cross through each other that at any given moment I couldn’t remember where I was trying to take a short cut too. It’s hard not to find fault with the games overall aesthetics here too. While Deck 13 did pretty much everything they could do with “post apocalyptic industrial area”, there really wasn’t much there to begin with. So areas lack any real identity of their own, which only makes getting lost that much easier. This has the unfortunate consequence of it never feeling like the player is making much progress. No matter where I go I’m always right back where I was.
And then there are the boss fights. My god, does this game have awful boss fights. First off, simply finding the boss is often a chore in and of itself. Not just because of the issues I mentioned earlier, either. When I first stumbled upon the arena for the first boss I said to myself “yup, this looks like a boss arena”….but it wasn’t. I moved through without even an enemy encounter. “Okay”, I thought, “maybe this was just to give me some breathing room”. It wasn’t until hours later, when I went back there by accident (I had no reason to be in the area anymore, or so I thought) that the boss appeared. Then the bosses themselves are a combination of the games worst traits. They do large amounts of damage with almost no cool downs for their attacks, the robotic nature means it’s hard to tell if they are moving or attacking, and they tend to move in such a way that the camera can’t keep up, forcing me to take a moment to readjust, a moment the bosses tended to use to wreck my shit. And the second boss has a number of one hit kills it can just keep using due to that lack of cool down I talked I about, and I’m told only gets worse later on in the game.
Thankfully everything else is at least on par. It’s visually bland, but it doesn’t look bad. The game could use a bit more light, as dark areas are nearly impenetrable even with a flash light on. More diverse environments could have helped a lot too. The dev team clearly tried, with a major part of the third level taking place in a greenery, but it never manages to be enough in my opinion. Sound is also pretty generic, with human enemies making basic zombie-like noises while mechanical ones have no real personality to their audio design. That’s not necessarily bad, just unremarkable.
I wanted to like The Surge more than I did. And to the games credit, it is a marked improvement over Lords of the Fallen. For all of it’s faults I do think it’s enjoyable enough to warrant a look….when you can find it half off or used. If Deck 13 keeps up the rampant improvement, it’s not hard to imagine their next game being something truly special. As for The Surge, I can only recommend it if you’re like me and you really enjoy Soulslike games and want to at least try all of them that come out. It’s far from perfect, but I don’t quite hate it. I’m disappointed it wasn’t better, but had it not been shackled to the AAA market, I think it could have been a much easier sale.
It’s been over a decade since Kingdom Hearts 2 was released. We had an entire console generation come and go without seeing another real installment in this franchise. This kind of wait would kill most other franchises in other forms of media. But unlike other long awaited returns like Half-Life 3 or Beyond Good and Evil 2, there has at least been a decent drip feed of information regarding this newest Kingdom Hearts game to make the wait not as tedious as it could have been. “Not AS tedious” being the key phrase there.
But in all honesty, after watching this i am kind of impressed, as the game doesn’t look like it’s been 10 years in the making. It’s hard to explain what i mean: i last played the games when they were re-released on the PS3, where i marathoner my way through the two main titles. This footage feels like, had i been playing this then, it would have been right at home in that collection. That’s pretty miraculous in my opinion, as you would think that over 10 years either something would have changed or the style would have become out dated. But no, this looks just as fun as the original games did. Even though i’m one of those weird-o’s who likes the more complicated side of the franchise more than the “Disney self-insert fanfiction” stuff the series made it’s name on, i’m still excited for this and i’m really happy to know it’s at least looking like it’s been worth the wait.
A little while a go i wrote a small peace on the upcoming free games on PS+. In the post i mentioned a worry over the fact that “This War of Mine: The Little Ones” was one of the included games, and too my knowledge that was a DLC and i worried it may force players to buy the main game in order to play. Well, my buddy over at Cheap Boss Attack said that it would be the full game, and i was going to leave it at that as i wasn’t sure 11 Bit Studio would ever respond to my inquiry. But, to my surprise they did in fact email me back confirming that the PS4 addition of the game was simply named after the expansion and would be playable for anyone who picks it up next month.
You know what i’ve always liked about Sony and Playstation? The Controller. I;ve found the PS controller to be the most comfortable over all, and i like that it has never changed in any meaningful way. Yes, you can fell the difference between the PS4 and PS1 controllers, but they’ve stayed pretty consistent. Well, it seems like some idiot convinced Sony that emulating the god-awful Xbox controller was a good idea. Microsoft hand-sore has evolved in much the same way, becoming more palatable over the hardware generations, but one of the main reasons i don’t like the Xbox is because i don’t like the controller. Because of that the fact that this exists with Sonys Ok is……a lot more understandable that i’d like to admit but still something that bothers me on a personal level.
Okay lets be real here: Espots that use controllers tend to use Xbox controllers and Sony is going to want in at some point. Most PC games with controller support only are really only designed to support Xbox controllers and with Steam now allowing full PS4 controller support it makes logical scene to give people a version of the controller they’re probably already more familiar with. But, if the internet has taught me anything it’s that just because something make logical scene that doesn’t mean i have to like it. So if you’d like to spend $113 on this abomination, go head.
The more i see of this game the more the exact same issue pops out at me: the levels seem almost lifeless. I’ve said before that in game that may not be an issue and that i can’t say for sure until i get my hands on it. That remains true now, but this trailer does help illustrate why i’m concerned. Look at the part at around 23 seconds in when the character pulls the lever on the slot machine. Look at the vast empty space that surrounds it. Look at how there are almost never more that three enemies on screen in big open spaces. I really hope i’m wrong about this: i really enjoyed what little i played of Banjo Kazooie as a kid and want to see more games like it and after Mighty No. 9 i’d really appreciate one of these throwback games to…you know…good. But for right now, i’m worried. i would love, LOVE, to be wrong but until i hear from reviewers i trust that it’s good i’ going to have to lower my expectations.