Originally published on GameInformer.com June 16, 2016, at 4:00 AM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 6/23/16.
Selected for Game Informer Newsletter, 6/25/16.
4,796 views as of June 4, 2018.
Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
The first day on the show floor I was able to take in some presentations and hands-on time, and came away impressed with each title I saw: Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr; Kona; Forge of Empires (Arctic Age); Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island; and The Solus Project.
NeocoreGames' Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor Martyr (PS4, Xbox One, PC; 2017) is an open-world action RPG that takes place in the Warhammer universe, where the Imperium of man is in a state of constant warfare as it is besieged on all sides.
Gamers play as an inquisitor -- larger than life figures that come from a variety of backgrounds and classes such as assassin or crusader (a tank type), each with their own active and passive skills developed via skill trees.
Because a 40,000 game traditionally is a violent exercise with lots of blood and gore, according to the developer, gamers can expect plenty of enemies from the 40,000 universe, including all races and factions.
The conflict plays out over a single-player Story Mode or Inquisitorial Campaign with drop-in/drop-out four player co-op. The former involves the story of a dirty secret from the past, the latter features a persistent sandbox with an ongoing story.
Gamers are free to roam the galaxy, starting with a map of a star system and its subsectors. Missions can be undertaken from the star map and vary in type (i.e. hunt, kill all, investigation, etc.). Chains of investigations can be pursued, such as heresies or plots against the Imperium.
Once chosen, missions can take place on huge planetary surfaces or spaceship fortresses, for instance. Whatever the setting, maps are randomly generated. Prefabricated elements are combined in different ways to generate virtually hundreds of thousands of maps for hundreds of hours of gameplay.
Such depth is a good thing, too, since you and your foes will be laying waste to each setting. A focus on more tactical action means smaller groups of creatures and the introduction of a cover system, though neither side is ever safe as cover is destuctible.
Combat also will feature boss battles. In such fights, strategy is important as targeting body parts can have an immediate benefit, such as severing arms holding weapons or wielding powers. Wear down your opponent enough and you'll trigger execution moves.
Features include healing potions, overheating and reloading weapons, loot and a crafting system. There will also be special live events where the community can influence the storyline.
Inquisitor is made with the fourth generation of the developer's own proprietary game engine and, although only a pre-alpha build, the demo looked pretty solid. The camera is an isometric, top-down perspective that can be zoomed in. Textures, colors, animations, particle effects and art design all were appealing.
Camera control seemed responsive, movement fluid and combat dynamic, with some foes firing from behind cover and some charging. The inquisitor appeared to snap in and out of cover well, targeting looked efficient and hit detection decent.
Degrading enemy cover with a barrage of weapons fire and severing the weapon-carrying arm of a boss both looked impressive, and the subsequent execution move was certainly gory.
As mentioned, it looks solid at this early stage, and with the developer promising longtime support in the form of DLC and patches, Inquisitor could be around for a while.
Parabole's Kona (PC, Mac, Linux; September 2016) is a first-person environmental survival game set in northern Canada in the 1970s. Gamers play as a PI investigating a report of vandalism, who discovers on arrival that everyone is gone.
Like The Solus Project discussed below, it's difficult to relate the experience of playing such games without spoiling the sense of discovery that is central to such titles. But I'll try my best to avoid that pitfall while addressing the essential gameplay experience.
The Kona demo unfolds at a residence in the wilderness during a snowstorm. This setting immediately introduces the element of environmental survival that is integral to the experience. Dwell too long in the frigid cold and your vision clouds as you start to freeze.
Interiors, therefore, whether in a building or vehicle, become an important refuge from the elements. Still, optimum environments will have heat, such as a kind of campfire outside or working heaters inside. In this context, gathering resources becomes paramount.
A limited inventory forces careful decisions about what to carry, a choice sometimes dictated by the task at hand, such as gaining access to a building/room or repairing equipment. Despite the finite inventory, the survival element encourages thorough exploration.
It helps that the environment and items in it are all carefully rendered, interaction is helped by icons when nearby, and controls are intuitive and responsive. The HUD itself is clear of any superfluous clutter, and thereby avoids interfering with the game's immersion and atmosphere.
On a related note, I appreciate the lengths to which Parabole has gone in creating a believable and cinematic experience, including modeling era-specific products, adjusting to glare when transitioning from indoors to outdoors, changing perspective when reversing in vehicles, or holding a road map at arm's length.
Other flourishes include text appearing on surfaces when interacting with certain objects, commentary from your character when triggered, story or other information revealed through found letters or memos, and item IDs that include necessary resources to activate.
Info might be limited, but a radial menu, keypad legend and vitals stats are a button press away. The radial includes access to a journal and, I think, items and settings, among others. The legend shows what is available via the keypad, including a flashlight and camera.
Besides searching the environment, other interactions are likewise handled well, such as entering/exiting structures or vehicles, driving vehicles or movement in general. The environment in general is good, with well implemented snowfall and well designed interiors/exteriors.
Objects are important as they're the source of key interactions, and they are well modeled and decently rendered. Surfaces on occasion can have low detail and, like similar games, object interaction at times can be trial and error, but in general this is a compelling world with an intriguing premise.
InnoGames' Forge of Empires is a popular city building game in 20 languages that has amassed 42 million players. I'm not surprised given the regular commercials I've seen, but the demo still surprised with the depth of gameplay for this mobile and browser-based online game that is unveiling The Arctic Future (2016) update this year.
Starting in the Stone Age it would take players about 2-1/2 years to progress through the ages up to the Arctic Age. Launched a couple weeks ago, this new area/age will feature four content sections, with the next release in two to three months, and the last two by the end of the year. InnoGames plans to release new content every week, such as quest lines given by historical figures.
The Hub is a construction site that when developed can allow arctic expeditions. These will require players to choose among different classes of characters. each with their own special skills. As one explores, choices can emphasize different priorities such as strengthening troops or economies.
This of course will impact whether players opt to attack or negotiate with settlements along the way. Although the game can be approached as a single-player experience, there is now an option to form guilds of up to 50 players, allowing members to share resources.
Members can help each other when called upon. For instance, if one has neglected army management, other guild members can provide armies for attack or defense. Other benefits include guild expedition points, which boost overall score and level and provide individual bonuses.
When engaging an enemy, a battle screen facilitates turn-based tactical combat on a grid-laid field. An automated battle system is an option that some might prefer to use against AI foes, for instance. Rewards for conquering provinces include treasure and resources, while the cost of losing is counted in resources, not cities.
There is a social component that guild membership encourages, as players can motivate building so construction takes half as long. Players can see who is online and offline, aiding in requests for aid.
Forge of Empires can be played on mobile devices including iOS and Android as well as on computer browsers, all using the same account with all the same in-game features so no progress is lost.
Grip Digital's Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island (PS4, Xbox One; Winter 2017) was a pleasant reminder of platformers past. With its traditional but solid gameplay, interesting use of time to solve challenges, and captivating world, Skylar & Plux sparked joy and nostalgia.
The first thing I noticed was the colorful, stylized world of desert landscape cut by waterfalls and rivers and interspersed with small oases of vegetation. The result is an environment ripe for platforming, and Skylar's basic skillset, at least to begin, takes advantage of it.
Testing her movement revealed a typical jump and double jump at her disposal. Cushiony giant mushrooms add extra bounce, and levitating grappling hook anchors allow for long-distance swings. All practically required in modern platformers.
What helps expand gameplay is the time-controlling device the duo find. When in Skylar's hands it can slow time, and when used to activate landmarks, it transforms the landscape to an early, lush setting.
The advantage is that alternately it can slow floating discs that otherwise quickly and constantly flip on end, allowing Skylar to leap from one to another, or change environmental hazards like quicksand into solid ground.
Time factors into gameplay by virtue of the villain's attempts to conquer their world and in the process turn it into a wasteland. That the heroic duo can harness it to combat the enemy, try to reverse his plans and hopefully obtain a measure of justice forms the basis of the story.
Combat is a core element of gameplay as the duo battle the villain's minions, which at least in the demo resemble armed TVs (at least older, square TVs). Skylar's attacks involve her augmented arm and include a swipe or spin, which are reminiscent of other genre characters.
Smaller enemies swarm, and larger ones are mostly stationary but fire kind of rapid-fire plasma cannons. The combat is not unusual, but it is fluid, responsive and intuitive. The same moves are useful for breaking items and obtaining crystals or shards of some kind.
The only thing that took a while to learn was using time via a trigger. Though something that should be second nature, i.e. moving objects to use when platforming, admittedly took me longer to realize than it should have.
Thankfully the only things that penalize players (at least at the beginning) are combat and environmental hazards such as quicksand or water. But no deaths felt cheap and generous checkpoints meant there was no frustration.
All in all, Skylar & Plux appears on its way to be a solid genre entry at a time when there are few new titles and fewer still that feel like a return to classic form. The demo was fun, and I look forward to seeing more.
Grip Digital's The Solus Project (PC, Xbox One; Summer 2016), like Kona, could be described as a first-person environmental survival game. Marooned on a strange planet after your starship is destroyed, your character must fend for themselves in this new frontier.
The actual description of the game as exploration adventure with survival elements emphasizes the excitement of discovering a new world while keeping in mind the inherent risks that such an expedition involves.
Those risks are mitigated somewhat by a handheld device that measures your vitals and environmental conditions, and analyzes objects in the world (to the extent such analysis can be made). It's a handy pocket resource to say the least.
Your health can and will deteriorate for any number of reasons, including hunger, thirst, lack of sleep, injury, etc. Physical exertion, like sprinting, increases their impact, so does jumping off of high formations, apparently.
The elements, which can change quickly, also can pose risks. So being aware of shelter is important, unless you scoff at the occasional meteor shower or tornado, to your own demise. Heat stroke is also a threat I ran away from (as I thought it was magma LOL).
A couple peculiar effects are how eating, for instance, will repair cracked helmet glass (a sign of injury), and how your handheld can decipher markings. Otherwise most actions in this world make sense and help immerse gamers.
Resource-gathering becomes paramount, though inventory is limited. Water is a necessity and in limited supply, so bottles are useful. Items also can be combined to craft tools like torches, which can light objects but also be extinguished.
There are also some light puzzle challenges that might demand temporary inventory slots, like moving heavy rocks in a given setting. In fact, environmental interaction can help your progress and is another motivation, like resource-gathering, for thorough exploration.
Your setting also includes organic elements, which i won't detail, though they are varied, interactive and compelling, if not always impactful. Likewise, there are not only natural formations to explore. But all contribute to the unique setting and atmosphere.
To that end, this world is a fascinating one to traverse, providing a satisfying mix of the familiar and strange. The color palette is effectively otherworldly, flora/fauna can captivate, and the art design is inspired at times.
Controls are well implemented, including inventory management, which is helpful given how integral it is to gameplay. Interaction can be exacting, as players have to hit a given target area, but it's not difficult. And visual prompts assist with navigating the world.
The presentation overall is well done, with nice textures, good animation and particle effects, and decent sound. Plus, verbal and written communications help flesh out the narrative and move the action forward.
As a game of discovery, I did feel compelled to continue exploring. All the design elements came together in a persuasive way, and promise more revelations as you progress, securing your survival and unlocking the mysteries of this strange planet.
The developers gave me plenty of time to wander, and though I didn't want to reveal specifics, there was definitely enough to warrant a return visit.
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