Marvel's Spider-Man might remind gamers of the combat in the Batman: Arkham series, but it reminds me of the Spider-Man game released in 2000, a quality superhero title by Neversoft late in the PlayStation's life cycle that showed off what the console was capable of.
This webslinger version, by Insomniac Games, does the same. And while it is reminiscent of those titles and others, it forges its own superior path instead of just being derivative. Navigation, combat, story, crime-fighting, puzzles and even photo mode combine for an entertaining superhero game.
Characters to begin with have depth and relatively complicated motivations. (SPOILERS:) Otto Octavius and Peter Parker don't stray far from convention early on (I'm only 23% into the campaign), but Aunt May volunteers at a shelter, Mary Jane Watson's intrepid reporter risks her life, shelter director Martin Li dissuades her investigation, and Shocker appears vulnerable and compromised.
The layers of characterization are complemented by gameplay depth. Navigation (a highlight) is fluid, intuitive and satisfying, whether swinging from webs, using web zips, climbing or otherwise scaling buildings, including to unscramble surveillance towers that reveal districts/crimes (similar to Far Cry) or finding backpacks for tokens to upgrade suits (like orbs in Crackdown).
Combat in general is likewise entertaining, using various acrobatic melee and stealth (as well as web) attacks and evasive moves that flow easily from one to another and, in fact, are reminiscent of the Batman Arkham games. Though this title helpfully adds web attacks to bind ranged foes, and different suits (with unique powers) and respective mods to add or improve offensive/defensive capabilities.
Suits can be crafted or modded with tokens earned completing various tasks including fighting crime, completing challenges, defeating enemy strongholds, solving minigames (i.e. involving circuitry, spectrographs), etc., all of which can be entertaining in their own right and help break up gameplay, including within each category of task.
For instance, crimes can involve such activity as kidnapping, robbery, burglary and chases. The first entails tracking down the victim, the second and third include taking on gangs of thugs, and the fourth involves catching up to getaway cars. All are fun and even the robbery/burglary can result in chases that can be exhilarating when webslinging through the city.
My only issue thus far, however, has been with repetitive gameplay, and I'm supposedly only one-fifth through the story. Of course the game is much more expansive than just the story missions, and I have yet to really undertake challenges or unlock higher level combos and suit powers. But in the meantime, I find myself craving more task, crime and minigame variety.
That said, my level 11 Spidey has unlocked all districts, is using the Stark suit with Spider Bot suit power and ballistic inserts, gel padding and combat analyzer suit mods. Spidey skills are 66% Innovator (besides Defender, Webslinger), using weapon yanks, takedowns and throwing. The depth of abilities/combos and suit powers/mods/gadgets are impressive and should add tremendously to the gameplay.
Last but not least is the photo mode, one of my fave modes in any title. In this game, it's taken to a new level with a variety of quality filters, stickers, frames, etc. that elevate the already impressive presentation with customization options for improved dramatic or even comedic effect. I've sunk a large amount of my game time into that mode alone.
All told, the sheer variety of options, the fluid and intuitive gameplay, the terrific production values and quality storytelling add up to an entertaining title that is one of the best superhero games. The one caveat are some gameplay elements that verge on being repetitive, but hopefully the deep skillset, mods and gadgets will offset any such concerns.
I loved my time with Red Dead Redemption (RDR), which is saying a lot. I tried Red Dead Revolver, Call of Juarez and Gun, to name a few, but no Western game could capture what makes the genre so appealing to me until I played RDR. Its version of the Wild West, with an enormous sandbox, abundant wildlife, rough-hewn characters and fun, varied gameplay is a classic.
So why is its sequel so difficult for me to fully embrace? Red Dead Redemption 2 shares the same bedrock foundation, shows the same impressive polish and travels the same hard scrabble path, but there are elements -- early on at least -- that undermine the freedom and fun that its predecessor so carefully cultivated in its enviable open world.
It's worth noting that I'm 7% through the story (Chapter 2). Of course it's not far, but my enjoyment of other games I likewise have just begun (i.e. Assassin's Creed: Odyssey and Marvel's Spider-Man) does not bode well for a quick return to RDR2 despite its positive elements. Indeed the game starts off strong with compelling characters in dire circumstance.
But during the opening segments my enjoyment and anticipation began to wane. While I do prefer games like RDR2 that not only allow the story to unfold but also incorporate training into the story in an organic way (like Witcher 3, vs. Witcher 2), this game takes so long to do both that I yearned to veer off at a hard gallop despite the world not being open for exploration just yet.
Players are certainly rewarded for their patience with fascinating characters that are well-written and -voiced, a story of survival and competition that is harrowing and believable, and a world that is impressively rendered. But long exposition and horseback riding plus sometimes contrived training exercises grow a little tedious.
Once free of this introduction I eagerly set out for the nearest town, though once there I couldn't help but yearn for the relative comfort of a linear path. And in some ways, this free roam world is linear, too, as your behavior is shoe-horned by game design. It's difficult to not run afoul of townsfolk or lawmen, or even the game's efforts to simulate settler life.
It didn't take long for someone to take issue with me, though all I think I did to offend was stand too close. In full view of others, he began assaulting me, so of course I fought back. Unintentionally I killed him. But instead of self-defense, townspeople turned on me for killing him and started shooting. I think I eventually turned myself in to avoid killing the entire town.
The next time someone insisted on fighting me, I fought back sparingly, hoping that eventually they would abandon the fight. Instead they persisted and nearly killed me so again I was forced to end their life. Thankfully there were no witnesses. It doesn't help that everyone has a bad opinion of me and any transgression seems likely to provoke a response.
I don't recall this kind of reaction to the (former) outlaw protagonist of RDR. And besides, this reaction is counter-intuitive to me. As a known outlaw, people should steer clear instead of provoke confrontation at every turn. One writer encouraged players to greet EVERY passerby to improve one's standing, and I assume over time player actions might moderate these initial reactions.
But as with other design choices, this seems heavy handed. Having to eat and sleep to maintain health and stamina is not unusual, but here it (as well as shaving, bathing, etc.) feels like busywork, especially when practically the same care has to be taken with one's horse. Speaking of, a horseback spill over a relatively small and low boulder cost both my avatar and horse most of our health.
Riding at a gallop such an obstacle can be difficult to spot in time, especially when your horse will ride or leap over it in most other games. Likewise, I accidentally rode across the path of a wagon and killed my horse, and turned my ride too close to a passing train and killed it. Admittedly, I'm accident-prone, but these early incidents were made worse by the other design choices.
Thankfully there are welcome gameplay elements like random encounters when outside town (a writer even suggested players should steer clear of population centers to fully enjoy what the game has to offer). Protecting people from assault or rescuing them from kidnappers at full gallop with guns blazing, far from wary spectators, proves fun especially when there are no consequences.
In fact core gameplay elements like shooting, hunting and horseback riding are as solid as they were in the prior game. Targeting, whether with gun or bow and arrow, works well and sneaking or taking cover provide solid assists. Riding, too, is intuitive (except for sometimes unforeseen obstacles). Third person provides a good perspective; whereas first person can be limiting in a gallop or firefight.
Out in the countryside one can engage in such gameplay with abandon and relive the unbridled joy of RDR while riding across verdant landscape, hunting game on foot or engaging ne'er-do-wells in tests of gunslinging skill. In these moments, the game shines. Again, the foundation is solid, it's just the upgrades that are questionable.
I don't want to walk/ride around towns on egg shells, which is what it feels like at least in the early going. Perhaps it improves with time and some townsfolk TLC, but I don't really want to spend the time nursing myself, my horse and bitter townspeople. I know many are fine with this gameplay and even enjoy it, but I'd just as soon get back to the rollicking Wild West I know and love.
Of the recent blockbuster games I've tried (including Marvel's Spider-Man and Red Dead Redemption 2), Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is my favorite. Granted, I've only played for 7 hours and made 2.67% progress, and it's difficult for me to put my finger on why I enjoy it most, but it's the one I look forward to returning to more than the others.
Part of the explanation might involve my having played for 7 hours despite only completing less than 3% of the game. I love open world, free roam games, and Ubisoft has crafted an inspired playground from the Classical World. Of course, I might tire of repetitive quests the further I progress, if that's the case, but for now the lure of exploration and adventure is tough to beat.
Point of fact, I think I've completed the missions/quests So it Begins, Debt Collector, Spear of Leonidas and Shark the Vagrant and mostly finished the Hungry Gods quest. I've also slain one mercenary (Talos the Stone Fist). In 7 hours, that's it. Mostly I ride around the countryside or swim the ocean, exploring and fighting soldiers, cougars, wolves, sharks, etc.
It doesn't hurt that the worlds above and below the waterline are beautifully detailed. I'm only on the Kephallonia Islands but the hills and ocean depths are believably rendered, colorfully realized, and fun to explore. This includes the terrain but also fauna, foliage and sea life, all detailed and well animated. Buildings and ruins, too, are impressive to behold, given their classical style and painting.
Traversal is fairly intuitive and well-implemented, allowing Kasandra (in my case) to scale most cliffs or buildings with relative ease, and to swim without impediment. In many ways, she's the natural world's Spider-Man, without the gadgets, that is. Truly, moving through this world feels fluid and exhilarating. Even on horseback or in boat, controls are well-implemented.
Of course, this series has featured quality traversal since the beginning, but has steadily improved that feature since then. There is almost an arcade feel to how one can get around, though animations and movement are still grounded enough, so to speak, that navigation doesn't feel artificial or too over the top. Combat in this sense likewise flows in a way that is entertaining but not outrageous.
Much has been made of how combat was more streamlined with the prior entry Origins, and this outing likewise makes good use of that with fluid heavy or light attacks and defensive movements including rolls. Switching between targets is a snap, assassinations are quick and easily triggered, and fighting on horseback or underwater is nearly just as intuitive (save for minor adjustments given the context).
Weapons also handle well whether swords, daggers, staffs, spears or bow and arrow. Item consumption is helpful though I have to remind myself/figure out how to efficiently make use of an item whether mapping to a button or otherwise accessing. (Hadn't really needed to until I ran into Talos.) Though regardless of title I often neglect boosts, fortifiers, etc.
At least they're there and, in the meantime, I can rely on my attributes. At level 5, I've spread my points among each class to include the Sixth Sense hunter ability (hold LT to snap aim), Charged Heavy Attack warrior ability, Revelation assassin ability (hold up to reveal secrets) and the Weapons Master skill. The option to select from each class so gamers can play how they want is always appreciated.
In my 7 hours I'm not sure what exactly grips me about Odyssey compared with the other titles, though the well-realized Classical setting, interesting characters, variety of side quests to this point, fluid and intuitive exploration/combat, general polish and plain fun gameplay (plus awesome camera mode) combine for an entertaining and alluring title that I look forward to spending more time with.
Dreams Take Flight in Rush VR
Few dreams can rival the ones where we're flying, probably because it's always been our dream to fly. Now the freedom that it entails is at our fingertips with the virtual reality game Rush VR. Newly available on PSVR, is this wingsuit racing game worth taking the leap?
The Binary Mill's game sends players soaring down four mountains in three different modes. Verdant Valley, Frozen Alps, Sunburst Canyon and Misty Mountain feature 20 runs apiece for a total of 80 paths that range from basic downhill trails to expert-level daredevil runs through narrow spaces.
As of this writing, I played offline and sampled the different game modes and several runs on two different maps. Limited time and comfort level (more on that later) prevented a deeper dive though I hope to play more and will update as the opportunity allows. Note online play supports up to 11 friends or random gamers.
In Time Attack, players challenge their ghost time after an initial run. Score Challenge tasks participants with hitting big-point rings and taking big-point risks to maximize their score. And Race mode encourages competitors to race through every ring in order to avoid time penalties on their way to the winner's circle.
Time Attack of course forces players to take even more risks to shave off seconds from their best times. Score Challenge adds an extra layer of strategy by using concentric rings, themselves with rotating high-score targets. Race mode is standard but I found the AI to be competent and fair, i.e. not rubber-band prone at least in the early going.
How players experience the game depends in part on the setup they select. I played both standing and sitting, and used the Move motion controllers (with arms outstretched) and regular controller, respectively. Other options appear to involve turning hands or the analog stick.
Two headset sliders adjust steering sensitivity from low to high and a comfort vignette from off to full. I kept the former on high and the latter on full. There are also typical audio settings plus the opportunity to replay flight or boost tutorials, which have helpful walk-throughs (fly-throughs?) of gameplay mechanics.
To begin, the first run on the Verdant Valley map is unlocked by default. Each subsequent run is unlocked after completing the prior one. The other maps are unlocked with points scored by progressing through each challenge. Wingsuits are also unlocked during gameplay and can be swapped in between runs.
Playing with the Move controllers involves keeping arms outstretched as you soar down the mountain. With the non-inverted setting, raising them lifts players and lowering them dives, while leaning to the right or left turns players. Using the regular controller follows the same basic principles.
Rush VR benefits from strong, responsive controls whether using Move or standard controllers. Standing with outstretched arms helps immerse gamers in the windsuit fantasy but can be tiring over time when adjusting position constantly to hit every ring. Sitting with the regular controller is more comfortable and actually more precise.
The game's runs are well designed to judge by the beginning tracks, and that's testament to the way that either control option syncs well with the action but also to thoughtful design choices. Checkpoints in the form of rings are well placed to allow maneuvering between obstacles and course correction without cheap deaths.
Variables increase as players progress, with gamers threading obstacles like trees, outcroppings, tunnels, buildings and narrow gaps in between cliffs or hillsides, or hugging rock, grass, ski lifts or train tracks, for instance. Also present are elements like planes, hot air balloons, real-time weather like mist or lightning storms, and day or night runs.
Besides allowing easy maneuverability, Rush VR is exceptionally good at producing the sensation of speed. Landscape and obstacles zip past, blades of grass fly up when skirting valley slopes, sheets of water spread out as one flies through waterfalls, and droplets streak across one's vision during a rainstorm.
Red streaks show how close players are to a surface -- and therefore to gaining boost. When the bar is full, pulling the controllers' triggers initiates boost, illustrated as a circular ripple in the air like you might picture a sonic boom. Whether at normal speed or during boost, there is little lag to slow things down.
Part of that can be attributed to a presentation that is limited when judged against today's standards, with low-detail textures, landscape pop-in at a distance, and relatively simplistic design. However, VR games are not renowned for their presentation, and the aesthetic is more stylized than realistic.
The game's audio adds to the experience (though at times it can be repetitive), whether the air rushing past, thunder, birds or planes, etc.; status updates or words of encouragement from your announcer/handler; and audio cues when hitting checkpoint rings or the finish. The upbeat score is suitable accompaniment.
When in between challenges, there are still fun activities to pursue. Players can summon objects to shoot hoops with balls or cans (for a confetti reward), knock down stacked cans, and fire sticky Nerf type projectiles from a toy gun onto any surface including opponents It's all addictive, if mindless, entertainment.
An important consideration I've saved till last depends on individual gamers' physical tolerance for navigation in virtual reality. Unlike some games that have a variety of locomotion options to address every comfort level, games for which speed is a central component have limited alternatives for in-game movement.
For instance, I can play Skyrim VR or Farpoint indefinitely with snap turning and otherwise smooth locomotion. But I can't last more than 60 seconds in Driveclub. Thankfully, I was able to tolerate sampling each challenge, two maps and several runs in Rush VR, though with some discomfort.
Races interestingly had the least discomfort, likely because I was focused on the checkpoints ahead. Time Attack caused the most discomfort due to trying to fly fast, skimming surfaces and making sharper turns. Score Challenge fell in between on the comfort spectrum. So take your physical tolerance for VR into consideration.
Rush VR so far has proved to be a thrilling virtual reality game. It's responsive controls, sensation of speed and arcade like elements make playing fun, though with a few caveats such as tolerance for VR locomotion and a limited presentation by today' standards. All told, it does a good job of making the fantasy of flight a reality for gamers.
Rush VR is priced at $24.99 (U.S.), £19.99 (U.K.) and €24.99 (Europe). There is a 20% discount for PlayStation Plus subscribers the first two weeks of release. The game releases in Asia on December 13. (Note that my impressions are based on a review code for the game.)
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