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Oure Review

Game Spot Reviews - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 01:00

Sometimes it's not clear what a game is trying to do, exactly, or what you were meant to get out of playing it. Sometimes a game just exists, and you finish it feeling neither richer nor poorer for having played. Oure is one such game; it's pleasant in parts, but it lacks a clear vision and sense of purpose.

In Oure you play as a young boy or girl who, in the game's opening moments, is pushed through a glowing door of light and finds themselves suddenly able to transform into a long and slender dragon, one obviously inspired by Chinese mythology. This type of dragon is a traditional sign of prosperity, and the game implies throughout that the actions you take may be repairing a broken world. Of course. There's a personal cost--there usually is in this sort of narrative--but there's not much in the way of pathos in this plot.

After a brief tutorial you're unleashed into an open expanse of clouds and invited to fly around the game's hub, following glowing markers to your next objective and collecting scattered blue orbs to progress. The dragon is simple to control, because there's not actually a lot it can do--you can climb up or dive down while flying through the air, and speed up if your stamina has recharged. The dragon is pleasantly zippy, and snaking through the skies at fast speeds is inherently satisfying. Gliding through the air, dipping into clouds, chasing orbs, and simply existing peacefully as the dragon is the most enjoyable part of the game. Unfortunately, the appeal of flying around wanes fairly quickly--the sky holds few surprises, and there's never a major change of pace or scenery. Wherever you go, it's just clouds as far as the eye can see, and the few collectables and additional pieces of lore you can scavenge aren't going to amount to anything significant beyond a few PlayStation Trophies. The novelty of flying around as a dragon wears thin because the game gives you little sense of purpose outside of your primary objective.

Your ultimate goal is to tame eight Titans, and to do so you need to collect the aforementioned orbs (although you can finish the game having collected less than a quarter of them) and activate pillars scattered around the map. Doing so is as simple as flying to them and finding their nearby activation point, at which point a Titan sequence will kick off. Most of these encounters are over within a few minutes, and combined they don't add up to much. The Titans might be epic in scale but taking them down is either very simple or annoyingly fiddly, with the game never quite finding the right balance in between.

The relaxing tone of flying through the clouds is at odds with these Titan sequences, and it's hard to identify a coherent link between the two parts of the game. The goal in each sequence is to grab every one of the glowing spires attached to a Titan, flying over them and figuring out the best way to approach the Titan's weak points. Each one requires a different method, but there's nothing here that feels particularly distinct--if you’ve played games with boss fights in them you'll be familiar with many of the approaches. After you grab a spire you'll have to solve a quick line-drawing puzzle, a la The Witness, to pull it out. Once all of them are pulled out the Titan will be tamed.

Among these sections there are quite a few good ideas, like scouring a creature's back for puzzle clues or one sequence that resembles a simplistic arcade shooter (albeit one where you don't shoot back), but these sequences aren't rich enough to elicit a strong response or make them memorable. I never felt a sense of achievement beating any of them, and by the time I'd defeated all eight I was surprised that the game had so little to offer. The difficulty curve is all over the place, too. The second Titan, which will occasionally knock you back with gusts of wind unless you grab onto pegs scattered along its enormous back, took me the longest to complete out of any of them. It was frustrating rather than feeling like a fair challenge--there's no indication of when the big gust is about to hit, and losing all your progress along the beast's back every time the wind came felt unfair. Only one Titan encounter felt particularly unique in how it was designed, forcing you to switch between dragon and child forms to progress (and even that one has some frustrating structural issues).

There just isn't very much to Oure beyond aimless exploring, since the battles are unsatisfying and brief and the collectables feel arbitrary. Lazily soaring through the clouds collecting orbs and finding secrets can be momentarily relaxing, but there's no compelling reason to keep exploring the clouds once you've wrapped up the Titan fights. The plot doesn't go anywhere, and the main action sequences feel like a small batch of concept proofs. Oure is the gaming equivalent of a daydream--it's pleasant and light, but it feels like a distraction rather than something worth latching on to.

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In Style Fashion News Feed - Tue, 11/07/2017 - 11:45

Need For Speed Payback Review

Game Spot Reviews - Tue, 11/07/2017 - 00:08

Need for Speed Payback is the kind of arcade racer that never requires you to lift your foot off the accelerator. Its brazen drifting is effortlessly achieved with aggressive cornering and feathering the brakes, and judicious bursts of nitrous are your best friend down any stretch of open road. There are few games of its ilk nowadays, but perhaps Payback points to a reason why. Despite its impressive visuals and contemporary trappings, Payback's pick-up-and-play driving model harkens back to Need for Speed Underground and its Fast and the Furious-inspired street racing. Yet, unlike the series' heyday, Payback's arcade sensibilities aren't enough to save the game surrounding it from wallowing in mundanity.

Where Need for Speed was once heavily influenced by Vin Diesel and co.'s predilection for tuner cars and Japanese imports, it's now taking cues from the more recent Dwayne Johnson-centric entries, with heists and over-the-top action as the order of the day. Set in the fictional US state of Fortune Valley, Payback's derivative tale of betrayal and vengeance takes place against the backdrop of an expansive open world that surprises with its range and variety. The faux-Las Vegas of Silver Rock is a glistening urban jungle of glitz and greed that gradually broadens out into sun-kissed deserts, precarious mountain ranges, and the twisting turns that skirt through its forest wilderness. With a steady framerate and impressive draw distance, Fortune Valley's slice of diverse countryside is picturesque at times, yet its locales are never distinct or memorable enough to make a lasting impression, and speaks to an open world that fulfills its role without ever standing out.

And the same can be said of Payback's story. After our three plucky protagonists are double-crossed during a heist gone awry at the game's outset, they set a plan in motion to exact revenge on their conniving defector and the ominous criminal syndicate she represents. It's a simple enough conceit that gives purpose to the game's structure, as you're tasked with defeating various archetypal racing crews in order to earn a shot at your nemesis.

It's the type of clichéd story you'd ideally want to turn your brain off for; yet there's not a noticeable shred of self-awareness involved, and its earnesty does it no favours. The dialogue is hammy, but not in a fun B-movie way, and it frequently goes out of its way to reference everything from The Matrix to Dragon Ball Z, with some cringe-inducing millennial slang shoehorned in for good measure. There's also the kind of forced banter that's become commonplace in video games and is dutifully featured here--where, for example, calling someone "Lil' Ty" is absolutely hilarious to anyone within earshot. All of this might have been bearable if the story was confined to intermittent cutscenes, but the narrative is so prevalent in everything you do that there's little respite from its hackneyed storytelling.

Infrequent story missions do at least latch onto the pomp and spectacle of Payback's Fast and the Furious inspiration, but it falters here, too. While these moments of vehicle-based histrionics feature its most visually arresting set pieces, they're frequently spoiled when the game rips control away from you just as things are getting interesting. Whether it's launching an 18-wheeler off a bridge, perilously driving alongside a truck on the wrong side of the road so your partner can hop aboard, or something as simple as using a car transporter as a ramp; as soon as the game deviates from the simple act of driving from point to point, control is wrestled away in favour of canned cutscenes. This might look more cinematic, but being forced to watch a scene you could feasibly control from behind the wheel is incredibly disheartening, and feeds into Payback's inherent dullness.

This all combines to make a game that's bland and unfulfilling, and is only exacerbated by the sheer amount of grinding you're required to do.

Like previous Need for Speed games, you'll pull up to checkpoints within the open-world, with race, off-road, drift, drag, and runner events providing plenty of variety. There are also Forza Horizon-esque speed traps and drift challenges spread out across the open-world, and these provide minor distractions on the way to each checkpoint. Race and off-road events speak for themselves, and drift competitions offer an anomalous thrill. Getting your car sideways is so easy that there's a singular pleasure in simply seeing how long you can maintain a drift for, while drag events are short and sweet but soon grow repetitive as you're essentially just staring at a meter to time your gear shifts. Races and time trials are occasionally interspersed between the traditional drag events in an attempt to break up the monotony, but having to heave these cumbersome vehicles around the twisting turns of a race track isn't a great alternative. Meanwhile, runner events focus on police chases and timed dashes between various points on the map.

The problem is, outside of drift events where it's a non-factor, the sense of speed in Payback is startlingly lacking. The speedometer may say so, but there's no tangible sense that you're hurtling down the road at 160 miles per hour in a fuel-guzzling death trap. Motion blur attempts to sell a fast pace, but never captures the sensation that the world's rushing by. It's all surprisingly pedestrian, with passive AI racers and police chases that are elementary. The cops might be aggressive but you never have to outthink or outmaneuver them; escaping is as simple as reaching a specific checkpoint. Pursuits are just glorified time trials, and even the damage model lacks steel-crumpling detail, so takedowns are underwhelming.

This all combines to make a game that's bland and unfulfilling, and is only exacerbated by the sheer amount of grinding you're required to do. Each event in Payback is gated by your car's level in the most egregious case of caRPG mechanics in recent memory. Each vehicle you own has six slots for Speed Cards that represent various parts under the hood (like the gearbox and ECU) and come with perks that will increase particular stats and your car's overall level. Each event has a recommended level, and since there's no scaling this means you'll usually have to spend upwards of 40 minutes or so collecting Speed Cards to upgrade your car. It's possible to win races if you're a smidgen below the recommended level, but any more than that and the AI is likely to leave you in the dust. The AI might be lacklustre, but there's no way to compete when they're in significantly faster cars.

You can purchase these Speed Cards with in-game currency at tune-up shops, but whether they have useful parts or not is down to timing, with stores refreshing their stock every 30 minutes. But you also need this cash to buy new cars. You can trade in unwanted Speed Cards for part tokens, with every three able to be exchanged for a new card, and you also earn a single card for each event you win. But this means you're constantly reaching these frustrating choke points, where the only way to progress through the story is by going back and replaying old events in order to earn enough Speed Cards to bump up your level. There's even a Trophy / Achievement for replaying races that literally mentions grinding in the description. And when you factor in the ability to expedite the process with microtransaction loot boxes, it feels geared towards encouraging you to part with real money unless you want to spend time replaying lukewarm parts of the game over again. There's nothing fun about repeating events, especially against opponents that are now at a significantly lower level than you are. But the alternative solution of spending real money doesn't bear thinking about.

Need for Speed Payback's banal racing is only magnified by this focus on grinding. The simple, almost retro, handling model provides occasional bouts of fun, but it's never enough to escape Payback's flaws, with an unwillingness to let you partake in its most hair-raising moments, and a general drabness that seeps into every layer of the game. Fast and Furious, this is not; and that's a disappointing outcome.

Horizon: Zero Dawn - The Frozen Wilds Review

Game Spot Reviews - Mon, 11/06/2017 - 16:00

With its incredible-looking environments and an ornate combat system, Horizon: Zero Dawn is an easy game to slip back into (even if you've ignored it for the better part of a year). The Frozen Wilds expansion makes a return visit even more enticing with new gear and challenges to seek out in the frozen north, with fresh enemies balanced to fit into the game's latter half. There's also a new storyline, which slightly expands your knowledge of the past and hints at events to come. Those revelations alone aren't terribly exciting, but as an excuse to revisit one of the best games of the year, Aloy's new journey hardly suffers from that small disappointment.

The Frozen Wilds primarily takes place in a previously unforeseen stretch of land that encompasses roughly 10-15 hours of new side quests and errands. Snow isn't new to Horizon, but it's never felt as ubiquitous as it does here. Mountain passes, valleys, and forests are choked with snow both on the ground and in the air. And when the sun cuts through the atmosphere just right, individual snowflakes take on gorgeous pink hues that make an already pretty game even prettier.

This scenic territory belongs to a tribe known as the Banuk, who have long lived in isolation from the rest of society. They follow a strict code of conduct that has more to do with self-reliance and pride than it does with justice and order. The constraints therein put pressure on Banuk in various ways, and most of your objectives in The Frozen Wilds focus on helping individuals overcome their personal struggles with tradition.

Your primary task has bigger implications, however, as a Banuk shaman living on the outskirts unknowingly holds the key to a new chunk of historical data and a new facet of the technological powers operating behind the scenes. Both this quest line and personality-driven side quests deliver heaps of dialogue, which, like Horizon's exchanges at large, range from heartfelt scenes to perfunctory filler.

But as excuses to clash with new sparking mechanical beasts, practically every mission in The Frozen Wilds feels valuable. The three fresh monsters are hugely formidable opponents that require considerable effort to defeat, and they are joined by a new power tier for every enemy--one step above "corrupted"--which makes pre-existing machines faster and stronger than ever. As you're shepherded along to new points on the map, you'll also discover strange towers that heal nearby enemies, their loud bellows making stealthy approaches even more stressful than usual.

Of the few new additions, the two grizzly bear machines--one uses ice, the other fire--stand out from the pack. They are capable of running on all fours or standing tall on their hind legs, and employ a wide range of hard-hitting attacks that punish delayed thinking in a heartbeat. Taking them down calls upon expert targeting and intelligent use of elements, the latter of which is linked to the new casting staffs introduced with the Banuk. These purely elemental weapons are perfect for putting enemies into a vulnerable state, to be followed up by attacks from more traditional weaponry. They prove useful beyond the frozen north as well, and it's easy to imagine (as a returning player who's already finished the game) how their capabilities would have come in handy during past trials.

Beyond new weapons, you'll also find a new grade of armor that adds an additional modification slot to standard armor types, as well as the Banuk's new gear, which carries auto-healing properties. Most new gear, if not given to you, is acquired through the usual mix of resources, which also includes the territory exclusive currency, Bluegleam. These gems are rewarded for completing quests and exploring the wilderness, and are in very short supply. You have to work to earn your new toys, but that's OK; the "work" is what makes Horizon so enjoyable.

The biggest and farthest-reaching addition has to be the new Traveler skill tree. Geared towards making your life easier and more efficient, traveler skills include things like disassembling extra items (rather than selling or discarding them), procuring resources while on horseback, and expanding your resource stash at large--all things that would have been immensely useful throughout Horizon. Seeing these new skills having already finished the main game isn't terribly inspiring unless you've got a lot of lingering quests left to hunt in the main map, or if you've been holding off on starting a New Game + run.

That said, coming back to Horizon for The Frozen Wilds alone is still worthwhile for the fights and sights, but it ultimately feels like a missing chapter, rather than an eye-opening extension of what came before. It's easy to imagine how newcomers to Horizon will benefit from its new gear and skills the most, for example. Likewise, its story feels better suited as an interlude than the revelatory companion to the conclusion it tries to be. Yet these are feelings that come up after more than a dozen hours of riveting battles and serene hikes flew by, so it's hard to get too upset at such a captivating experience when it's all said and done.

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