Look at how much fun they’re having! It’s all lies! No one maintains this much of a relaxed demeanor with a timer quickly cycling to zero. Today we’re going to take a fresh look at the newly released bomb defusal game, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.
So, what exactly isKeep Talking? Well thematically there’s not much going on. You’re in what looks like a military bomb-testing facility with a suitcase-sized explosive device wired with all manner of devilish puzzles to solve. It’s intended to be a multiplayer experience with the bomb technician viewing the device and giving information to assistants who have access to a manual. I’m sure it could be played single player but what are we, psychopaths?
So, like any normal person, I teamed up with two buddies on stream and decided to save the world over and over and over again.
The puzzles are intuitive in their design giving you the classic “which wire should I cut”, symbols and ciphers, enticing buttons, and freaking Morse Code! Yes, if you’re a sailor or were born in the 1800’s, please contact me, we need help with that part.
Don’t even get me started on the alarms that blare, the gas ventilation, and the lights that turn off at every opportunity. Granted, it’s only for higher difficulties, but the challenge is graciously accepted. I couldn’t help but feel that the room was trying to kill me, and in some cases perhaps my own team was trying to kill me. It was funny, to me at least, when you hear a string of numbers and out of nowhere the deafening cry of an alarm clock shocks you into a state of disarray. It was like calling the ISS inside a herd of elephants, something I would totally do over and over again.
The fantastic heart-pounding action track from the blast end of the timer was even more invigorating as it gave you a solid minute to relinquish fear through your steadily evacuating sweat glands.
It’s all in good fun though. On several occasions we had never dealt with a particular module and decided to wing it. We found, through trial and error, that the instructions are articulated in a way that makes them fair but punishing to those who don’t pay close attention. It can get confusing at times, but perfect play with practice and the ideal adage “Keep talking” both ring true for anyone who plays this several times.
After awhile the initiated quickly develop a shorthand and the vocabulary becomes secondary. At least that was our experience. We love puzzles and couldn’t help but fall victim to KTaNE‘s enticing throes. Perhaps the biggest draw is getting multiple people together and developing a multi-tiered operation. We traded information at everything less than lightning speed all to one source who had to process and execute each order with impunity or else, you know, we all die. It was the people who made the bomb interesting, who added the element of imperfection to a very by-the-numbers experience.
For being a mechanically technical game KTaNE utilizes abstraction and the necessity of interpersonality to do what party games do best: create an atmosphere of raw enjoyment. Time is the enemy, the bomb is the obstacle, and together the engagement of friends or family steps KTaNE above other couch co-ops. One screw up might lead to death, but everyone is responsible. The resets are easy and the time it takes to disarm a bomb is nearly microscopic, so if you fail then there’s no hard feelings. You just move to the next challenge and keep on trucking.
Denying this game any modesty, I can say without a doubt that I’m seriously excited for the next step in Steel Crate Games’ IP. And given that I have yet to master all the puzzles and permutations, I can’t even imagine how many hours I’m going to kill(pun intended) inside that cold and dark concrete-padded room, but at least I know I won’t be alone.
Fans of Team Ico, the same devs who brought us Shadow of the Colossus, have been dutifully working on The Last Guardian for upwards of eight years.What could be considered a development limbo has quickly morphed into an influx of fan excitement for the new IP. It looks fantastic and harrowing and will be released some time in 2016.
Sony’s E3 press conference revealed a visually stunning remake of Final Fantasy VII, incurred by sheer force of will from popular fan demand. The remake will be directed by Tetsuya Nomura and is aptly dubbed Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Whether or not the game will appear outside PS4 was not confirmed, but Square Enix said in their showing that gamers can “Play if first on PlayStation” which would imply that the game will release on other platforms.
Whether or not Microsoft, the main competitor to Sony, will be host to this nostalgia filled recreation of the Final Fantasy VII world is still to be seen.
More details will be announced in the near future.
Now, asAudiosurf 2 has recently been released from the throes of early access, officially “launched” to the public of Steam, I can only help but feel that it must be reviewed with care and prowess, dissecting the fruitful gains of an entertaining piece of software, but given the current state, I can’t afford Audiosurf 2 its potential score, such that there really isn’t much more I can cover if I were to analyze it fully.
Does this hurt the game? Quite a bit, but you can expect more inside.
Audiosurf 2 is a sequel and technical overhaul to Audiosurf, a game for PC about surfing your music. Genre defining, Audiosurf allows you to upload your favourite music into the game and generates a track for you to race vehicles down collecting points and avoiding obstacles.
If you’re anyone who’s met me, you would know some of my favourite games to play are music-based, mostly because I listen to an extensive amount of music while working, but enhancing the experience always perks my jimmies.
I immediately fell in love with Audiosurf not long after it released six years back, being able to load everything from The Beatles to Tool, much to the fancy of my teenage self, and when I found myself soaring upon cosmic highways in the wake of incredible psychedelic particle explosions, I could only help but feel elated and oddly satisfied at a very unique kind of experience.
Well, Audiosurf 2 just landed in my lap but a few days ago, and I quickly remembered why I love this developer so much.
I loaded up the game fairly quickly as the entire package was about half a gig, and was taken aback when the load menu showed up, differing but slightly from the original. It wasn’t terribly confusing, and as soon as I figured out the layout, I realized the developer opted for an incredibly simplistic design, one that would launch you straight into gameplay without having to skirt menus and dodge prompts.
However, given the simplicity, I couldn’t help but notice the stability faltered to an annoying but sufferable degree. Perhaps the biggest of my gripes is the response of some menu buttons, in that there is none, and being locked into a song which forced a restart on two occasions.
Other variable factors included points where I thought the game had crashed and tabbing out to check actually did crash it, but it seemed that the more I played, the more stable the game got. Either way, the minor incongruencies paled under the weight of magnanimous gameplay, something which surprised me to a satiable end.
The way it works is you load up a song, choose a gamemode – which now includes a torrent of mods, something which alludes infinite possibilities – and you choose a skin to wrap over the vessel, track, and background, all of which can be modded as well, one of which is a Hotline Miami skin which you see used in the video above.
I will say that my favourite modes of gameplay are Ninja Turbo and Wakeboard, and my favourite skin is Dusk.
In Ninja Turbo your mission is to collect points, but more importantly ninja yourself around spikes in the road, or, if you’ve loaded up the Dusk skin, dodge cars lest there be a terrible accident. Just kidding, you only lose points.
Now, the Dusk skin is completely infallible in terms of offering immersion into the song, and the only thing dividing me from a twilight commute is the 37 cars I accidentally ravished on my way over increasingly unsafe slopes.
But it’s all the same either way, because in between colds sweats and feverish hands, I sensed a film of elation draping over the recess of my mind, coursing along Parov Stelar’s electro swing tracks featuring virulent turbulence and insurmountable challenges that arose from the vacancy of space.
Audiosurf 2 does something incredibly well with its new coding, and that is adhering to music tracks. It does it so well that every block, the ebb of the pathway, and the air of the environment all confine themselves to the jaunt of the music, but flow in a transcendence of odd expression. There are times where it works too well, but mostly the immersion has increased tenfold, offering you a physical avatar to traverse your music.
Also, if you get a chance, go to your sound options and turn off the horrendous sound effects. Every time your vehicle hits a block, the loathsome jab of a salt shaker can be heard, something which drew me out of the music for completely arbitrary reasons.
Now, discussing Wakeboard, my second favourite game mode, I loaded up the cacophonic sludge metal of Electric Wizard, unsure of what I was about to get into.
One thing you’ll quickly learn about sludge metal: it doesn’t stop. In fact, there’s a minimap in the top left corner of the game screen that shows you the vertical drops of increased action and the nimble plateaus that sneak in between. Well, there’s really only two plateaus in sludge metal, one at the beginning and one at the end.
I found this out the hard way when I started up the song and basically fell off a cliff, left to my own devices while a mad Englishman shouted spells at me. Wakeboard is much the same as literal wake surfing in that you bank off “waves”, but instead of water it’s the music and instead of accruing social merit, you need to collect point blocks and fly as high as you can to get the higher scores.
I was infinitely perplexed the first time I jumped into the air and tumbled endlessly down a steep decline, both scared and amazed in a rising heat of the moment. It was incredible fun, and several moments arose where I chained jumps and banks, giving me endless rebound into the sky above.
I usually go for about four songs at a time when I play, reveling in the updated and ultimately unfettered design, awaiting a broad future for this game, this developer, and in turn, the genre as a whole.
However, the lacking features are disheartening. The relative stability and build of the game needs work, and despite the incredible fun this game offers, those are always going to resemble a thorn in its side.
My final thoughts on Audiosurf 2 are ones of gratification in that I would totally recommend you buy this game now, even in a semi-unstable state. It offers unparalleled gameplay and an experience that will be monumentalized with the advent of modern and futuristic technologies.
Also, it’s just a blast to surf you music, man. Get it while it’s hot.
Audiosurf 2is developed by Dylan Fitterer and can be found on Steam for $14.99
Trine 3 released for early access on Steam on April 21st, reporting three times the sales as Trine 2, and overwhelmingly positive reception from the community.
Trine 3 is developed by Frozenbyte and features an appealing blend of a 3-D world space with conventionally isometric platforming and a tripartite character/puzzle layout that continues to expand upon the classic dungeon crawler party system. It’s multiplayer enabled and allows any player to assume a different class at any given moment.
Trine is one of those series that knows how to stick to a formula, and in the case of Frozenbyte, diverging from the rails might not be in their best interest yet; here’s why:
It stands the test of time that fantastical adventuring, party abstraction, and iteratively epochal storytelling are going to transcend the wide array of media available for many decades to come. Within the last century, Tolkien’s influence spawned a very unique subculture that promotes the hero’s journey, but with strength in numbers being the crutch of choice. It’s the path from point A to B, the adventure between, that tells a story, and the prize at the end of the rope is either a neatly tied knot or a nexus to the grand and enigmatic future awaiting these select heroes.
I’m probably sounding like a looney, but I have a few points to discuss and the aforementioned is my most salient of them all, so please keep that in the back of your head.
In the Trine series you play as three separate characters trying to accomplish various goals, and although I never got to play the first one, I can tell you each installment will stand alone or can equally compound experiences with minimal impact either way.
You platform, solve puzzles, collect treasure, and of course, beat up enemies. It’s fun, to say the least, but I fear the throes of early access have wrenched back the diadem of design, revealing a bleached skeleton.
The game looks fantastically beautiful graphically, a valiant leap ahead of its predecessors and a phenomenal adjustment to the quality bar, but this is an uncooked cake with mesmeric frosting. I had a lot of fun at certain points, but every time I ran into an unpolished area I could feel the variable infatuation with everything else becoming much less impactful. Such is the crux of early access.
In Trine 3 multiple puzzles must be tackled, some more difficult, dextrous, or downright buggy than others, but from what I saw, the prospects of Trine 3‘s layout is a vacuous dungeon-crawler that promotes the erection of futile roadblocks above the smooth weaves of event chains.
For example; you can play as a knight who exercises strength and gliding, a mage who uses telekinesis and summons objects, and a ranger who can swing across various gaps or fire arrows at switches to get the job done. All of the characters are able to wall jump, and given Trine’s particular use of an isometric layout that extends 3-dimensionally down the X and Y axis at various points, there sprouts two options for the player.
One: break the immersion and try to find the sensitive button prompt or try and mill about the screen until something reacts.
Two: power through the puzzle, possibly taking damage or simply wall jumping over it.
Every time I was faced with a simple contraption it was far more arduous to sit there and meticulously dodge the joysticks like I’m adjusting a stripper’s tassels, and after awhile the mind-numbingly insincere prompts began to wear at my disjointed inputs, such to the point that I would switch to the mage, summon a legion of boxes, and run past whatever obstruction happened to be in my way.
I was incredibly flighty, and perhaps a bit too impatient, but the certainty of the game developers in their “puzzle” to adventure/combat ratio was a bit stilted towards the former, lending no credence to the exceedingly enjoyable aspects of my first look. I loved fighting the very first boss who was intrinsically a pseudo-Colossus-esque boss fight, one which I definitely did not take for granted.
I passed through a sufficient arc in the story and I wasn’t necessarily engrossed, but I wasn’t turned off either. I make it a point to not envelop myself in early access games which are more story-oriented as I don’t want to ruin the full experience which ultimately brings me to my next point.
Alway be frugal, especially in the video game market. This is an industry which is spoken ill of by many and generally does not perceive video games as an art form, and being in its infancy, digital entertainment such as this comes with malleable rules.
I generally don’t approve of early access as they portend a future of empty promises, but when you have a game like Trine 3 that shows incredible potential and rests under the wing of amicable developers, it goes without mentioning that one should invest in a veritably enjoyable experience. And I would wholeheartedly support this notion.
However, there is a clause.
Trine 3 is story driven, but also happens to have its fair share of bugs and incongruencies. Personally I would not recommend buying the game until it reaches completion. It’s a great multiplayer experience in itself, but with average mechanics, the only resolve is within the world they have constructed.
My ultimate advice for anyone who wants to act right now is to show interest, and if you have the money, this is a safe buy, but don’t complain about the optimization, bugs, or lack of gameplay options if you buy early access because what the hell are you doing playing through Trine 3 before you can fully embrace the completed game?
I truly wish the developers hadn’t planted their fruits so early as this could have been a much more momentous conjuncture which is why I’m incredibly glad I stopped when I did. I’m expecting a great game, just not until release, and if the developers are as spasmodic in their updates as Trine 3 is in its gameplay, then I call dibs on “Frozenbyt the dust” for their epitaph.
“The Steam Workshop has always been a great place for sharing mods, maps, and all kinds of items that you’ve created. Now it’s also a great place for selling those creations.”
That quote is taken from the steam workshop announcement page in which Valve seemed to declare war on their free market model surrounding the modding community. If you’re out of the loop previously, Steam Workshop was introduced in October of 2011 and has been enormously successful with the PC gaming community, providing altered game states and custom skins for a variety of titles from Don’t Starve to Skyrim.
Now PC gamers begin to question their dutiful overlord, Valve, in what appears to many as a blatant exploitation of fertile grounds. Could it be, however, that Valve wants to compensate those passionate creators out there, thus creating a demand for more content developers?
Either way, if you want to pick up your mods at no cost, there’s still free mods in the Steam Workshop, Mod DB, and Nexusmods. The only question is, can the competition sustain itself and for how long?
You can be sure we’ll be covering this in months to come both here and on Twitter.
Uncanny Valley(UVa), what can I say? It stands above the Steam Greenlight breeding grounds for cash grabs and horrifying attempts at video game design, but how far does it stand?
Uncanny Valley is a horror/psychological thriller developed by Cowardly Creations. Much in the same way Lone Survivor plays, Uncanny Valley is side-scrolling, pixelated, and utilizes an atmosphere of darkness, solitude, and symbolism to evoke feelings of dread in a kafkaesque nightmare.
You play as an unassuming security guard for a decommissioned worksite conveniently located in the middle of nowhere with little information and less-than-lethal torch.
Sounds safe enough, right?
I love pixelated art, horror games, and an enthralling adventure story to boot. For this review I’m going to splitting coverage into those three sections because something that came quite apparent through my playthroughs was the eerie gap between the elements of design, and the increasingly terrifying way they try and fit together.
The first thing you’ll notice about Uncanny Valley is the exceptional art design. Pixelated art is a very rough medium to transcend, but when you understand the fundamentals, it’s only a tip-toe away from staging scenes that pronounce synergy and fluidity. All the models, backgrounds, and what-have-you’s matched up very quaintly, especially when the environment radically shifted.
The scenes were painted together so that the ebb of concentration was never undermined by imposing graphical conundrums, and when the occasional error did spark up, I was so engrossed in the environment that my double-take became a venial afterthought. That may be subject to game design, but when I walked into a room, I didn’t feel as if I was simply walking from A to B, engrossed in nothing more than my character, I felt as if the room presented itself to me and told a unique story of its own.
The rooms themselves are probably the most interaction you’ll get the entire game. There’s only a few NPCs muddling about, and each of them are just as disinterested in you as they possibly can be, so there’s incredible moments of introspection or, adversely, deep-seated boredom.
Now, as far as horror goes, it stands to reason that scaring people is incredibly difficult through whatever artform you’re exploiting, especially if the audience has witnessed the tropes, knows the tells, or are generally someone who is undaunted (we all know they are secretly wetting their pants).
If you came here for horror, then I’ll assume you go to Vine for comedy, iTunes preview for your music, and Costco sample tables for your meals. Don’t get me wrong, Uncanny Valley wields the juggernaut sword of terror in the most imposing ways possible. I mentioned earlier the kafkaesque world, and when you combine that with eldritch undertones of unnatural, Gothic narratives, Uncanny Valley lives every word up to its name.
Let’s take the level design for instance. There’s a lot of head space in many of the environments juxtaposed by incredible silence. It’s just you walking around in an open space, expecting something to come out of the thousands of possible places. It’s comparable to the enormous size of a leviathan in the sense that something so great and powerful should not exist, but instead of an imposing monster, we pale in comparison to the great expanse of the void, thereby making the player character seem insignificant.
The lighting is equally ambient, and therefore doesn’t serve the purpose of masking unseen horrors as much as it’s used. It feels rather like the gristle on an unfinished steak.
All that being said, UVa is great at serving me bite-sized horror. There are moments of impending doom in which I panicked, most of them to be exact. I was scared for various reasons, intent on not being enveloped by pilfering shadows, and UVa does this perfectly! Kudos! Listen, if you want to make a horror game, the unseen is always worse than the enemy you can see, however, when the enemy approaches so quickly that you have no time to comprehend what they are, this promotes just as much regret when you accidentally run the wrong way.
They kind of dropped the ball the second half, trading the adrenaline exercise I was having with shock terror and dystopian set pieces for a Dead Space/Silent Hill gore factor, one I admired but didn’t particularly agree with.
Here’s where we unveil the horrifying truth of UVa, unfortunately.
It feels clunky, and not in the way most indie games usually do. It really is uncanny the way everything else fits together, but the controls and button prompts are neither decisive nor accurate. Some bugs I was particularly disenfranchised by included not being able to use my inventory and the inability to leave rooms while talking to someone for fear of the game crashing. These were pretty major, but I managed to look past them and see the even more upsetting features.
Now, if you don’t understand the story by the halfway point, I can only imagine you happened to run past all the computer monitors littering your workplace, laden with exposition, or perhaps you didn’t read them because you were turned off by the awful input prompts, or lack thereof.
I distinctly remember approaching a story item at one point, pressing ‘E’ to interact, and reading some text. I hit ‘Esc’ to back out because I wasn’t ready to commit to exposition. This brought me to the pause menu. I hit ‘Esc’ to get out of that, to no avail. Turns out a game marketed around the keyboard utilizes the mouse in the most exclusive ways possible.
Imagine doing this for multiple computers, items, and people, unable to skip dialogue and unsure of what the interact button is. Granted, I got used to the controls, but even then I was still hitting roadblock after roadblock, my immersion wearing down like the tread of my adventuring tires.
The story itself is pretty mundane, but they did make room for replayability and variation. There’s not much to interact with, but if you can bear through the hamfisted dialogue and the few diminished or droll sequences a few times over, then maybe you can bring some colour to those poor, lonely Steam achievements.
In games like this the ending is never as satisfying as the game itself. I loved the first half, expecting to find myself in a city, surrounded by people, but feeling more alone than ever. The experience went from being inside the painting to simply looking at it.
Gamers, here’s my advice: wait for a Steam sale or pick this up in a bundle. I really admire what this game was so close to doing. I can tell there is immense talent within these developers, but from what I can see it wasn’t utilized to its full potential.
I’m keeping my eye on them, ready to reach out my hand for when they decide to step out of their own uncanny valley.
Uncanny Valley is developed by Cowardly Creations and is available on Steam or their website for $8.99
The divide between the prospects of the future and the relics of the past is smaller than ever. Games such as Smash, Shovel Knight, and Rogue Legacy use the building blocks of retro platformers to perpetuate the platforming, arcade-style gameplay many of us grew up with, and the level design of non-isometrics uses platforming influences to create interactive, vertical terrain like the Arkham series, Uncharted, and even some parts in Bloodborne.
Among the key elements of video game fundamentals we see a recurring theme of puzzles from simplistic to extreme. These can come in the form of mind-bending mazes, riddles, engineering problems, or just figuring out the lay of the land so you can traverse with ease.
Why do I bring these up? Well, Kalimba brings both platforming and quick thinking to another level, preserving the notion that platformers will continue to enlighten and enthrall gamers for a long time to come.
Kalimba is an arcade platformer that pits you against an enigmatic warlock and dangerous environments, each filled with challenges you must overcome, all while controlling two characters at the same time. It currently retails on Xbox One for $9.99 and will be releasing on Steam April 22nd (price not listed at this time).
As I said before, if you’re an Xbox One owner, this game has been around since December 17th and is available for you right now, and this probably plays a major factor in why I didn’t catch any of the hype or even notice the game until it came to PC. I’m really glad I did notice it, however.
Kalimba is vibrant and lively, instantly catapulting you into a world of polygons and totems where you play as a disembodied shaman who must inhabit totems in order to guide them around the world to track down an evil warlock.
The story is very compact, served to you in bite-sized loading screens and orchestrated cutscenes through the sardonic maw of a less-than-willing bear, curiously named “Hoebear the Metabear”. By my word is he meta. We’ll talk about that later though.
If you’re not encapsulated by the story, which doesn’t really come off as detrimental to enjoying the game, then I can at least find solace in knowing you won’t ignore the embellished set pieces, level design, and all around aesthetic of Kalimba.
From the menu screen on, I found myself deeply enamored with the music, especially as I tumbled along the levels. It wasn’t long before I realized Kalimba was integrating some portions of the OST into the physical layout of the game. For instance, there are these tokens you can collect and at certain points the music will chime in beat when you collect them, much like Audiosurf in some sense, albeit constructed instead of generated.
Another thing that caught me off guard was how reactive the environment seemed to be. Clouds of energy, pools of fiendish ichor, and especially the narrator himself, were all made of flowing particles that both affected the player and were affected by the player. It reminded me of Dust‘s physics in the weirdest but most satisfyingly insignificant nostalgia attack I’ve had lately.
All in all, the levels were tightly built, fitting together with immense care, almost as if the game developers really cared about their craft or something.
More along those lines, let’s get into gameplay. One thing you’ll learn about platformers and retro games is their adept ability to teach you new concepts without shoving exposition and button prompts in your face like a can of raid to an ant hill, and it’s this text-ridden solicitation that really kills games for me.
Kalimba does a great job of showing rather than telling, something most games seem to pass over. It uses a tried and true technique of giving me one option to choose from – jumping, for instance – and then gives me platforms with certain death below. The only logical solution is to jump from platform to platform, avoiding death, and reaping victory.
As a result of this, I feel like I’ve accomplished a task with little to no prompt, and instead of reading a wall of text or getting a three minute smack on the arse for failing, I can continue down my path to learn new skills for new challenges, or if I fail, I will be reset some metres back so I can try again.
The catch is you have two totems to control with only one set of controls. In other words, they mimic each other, and before long you begin thinking for two instead of simply worrying over one player character.
It sets everything up fluidly, something I have trouble with in a lot of by-the-books, triple-A drivel. My usual big-budgeters were regurgitating a laundry list of “stop here”, “go there”, “pick up a quest”, and “follow the map”. I really had no reason to care and no cause to be alarmed, but most certainly I had no drive to actually immerse myself within the worlds I was exploring.
Kalimba, as simplistic as it may be, makes me actually care about the ending, makes me want to replay, and instills within me a sense of accomplishment over beating new challenges. As casual as it may seem, Kalimba fits the right pieces together at the right time, taking the very basic elements of gaming to form an unique piece of artwork that stands vividly against a rather sordid backdrop, Steam’s Greenlight graveyard included.
All of that being said, I have a bone to pick with Freddy… I mean, the unfortunately named Hoebear the Metabear. In all honesty, I hate Hoebear with a passion. He instills in me a deep sense of primal rage that can only be relinquished through bloodshed, and here’s why:
Being named Metabear is the first indication that he is, in fact, really goddamn meta. He is the epitome of a fourth wall breaking narrator, and never in a good way. Don’t get me wrong, I love self-referential works. I love narrators who spark jokes or poke fun at the characters, especially on the levels of Magicka and Borderlands, where the fourth wall is merely a suggestion. I love characters who deal in both introspection and diegetically address the audience as if it were story time around the campfire.
But Kalimba‘s attempt at acerbic narration headbutts directly with the implicit mood of the game itself. I was really interested in the story, expecting a few meta jokes from the eponymous bear, but when every other line was shrugged out like a droll stand-up routine at a high school talent show, I began to feel the weight of the story collapsing on itself, and instantly dreaded any interaction with Hoebear.
He pushed the limits just barely too far and fell off the edge. If the entire game was self-referential and admonished sincerity, then I could appreciate Hoebear in all his fruitless efforts, but if you’re going to try and enjoy this game for its humour, prepare for more groans and face palms than Bill Hicks at a pun convention.
Kalimba is developed by Press Play and published by Microsoft Game Studio. You can pick it up on Xbox One for $9.99 or Steam for (price not yet announced).
The Grand Theft Auto V PC port released yesterday in astounding 60fps and a resolution that scales to 4k; more detail here. Apparently 73% of the Steam reviewers are satisfied, basking in the wake of a glorious video editor, meticulous setting adjusters, and even customized radio, but the other 27% aren’t doing so hot.
Crashes, bugs, and the sub rosa utterance of a rushed port portend a disjointed reception of Rockstar’s newest endeavors.
Despite these minor setbacks, Rockstar seems hellbent on using their insane revenue to give fans on all systems the sporadic fever dream of a world with relaxed rules, ultra-violence, and of course, packing your garage with stolen vehicles.
Several years ago my friend and I were playing through Dark Souls, our wits tied to no end, when I turned to him and said something on the lines of: “You know what would be absolutely rad? A Dark Souls with muskets.” With little provocation, and a stellar idea, we spent that entire night coming up with ways this could work.
Needless to say, when From Software announced Bloodborne, I went catatonic, prepared to buy a PS4 exclusively for this release. I was anxiously awaiting the moment I could go out and get my copy after it released March 24th of this year, unable to reach a store until four days later.
The hype was real, the fans were happy, and a new wave of Souls-like masochists sprouted from the fertile ground of the current-gen consoles. As soon as my game case passed over the counter, I pried it open with the utmost care, taking a whiff of the new-game smell. If it was anything like I had hoped, I was in for another wild ride.
Bloodborne is a fantasy RPG developed by From Software and published by Bandai Namco. It follows the Souls’ style of gameplay with a few unique elements, but mostly focuses on difficulty and grinding to present a hardcore challenge to all gamers. The setting – where all previous games had been a medieval fantasy-extinction – is a dystopian city with Victorian architecture and heavy Lovecraftian influences, much of which will hopefully be covered in more detail in the following few months by my favourite lore speculators Vaati and DaveControl.
Blood, disease, and insanity are the chapters of my tale, an eldritch story for only the most daring of individuals.
Chapter 1 – Bless us With Blood
I stepped into Yharnam as an entrepreneur, ex-soldier to a distant land, and current stranger to a vertiginous city. The locals were unfettered by logic, judgement, and social standards, their make-shift weaponry clashed with my elite hunter attire to little avail.
With the depletion of my health I found I could steal the blood of others, and what a show that was. Blood rained down upon the ground, my cloak, and doused the enemies in sanguine ichor. Blood was everywhere to be had, worn like a cloak to a date with death.
Many different items were that of blood such as vials used to heal, petrified blood used to upgrade weaponry, and clumps of gelatinous blood used in fortifying my resolve or in various rituals. I was caught in a mire I didn’t fully understand.
Blood was so important that you collected it from fallen enemies and used it to level up, much like the souls in Dark Souls. This time, however, if you died carrying blood, an enemy would absorb it making them relatively more difficult as your only liquid currency was now on the line, waiting for you to either recover it from their slain corpse or die to them again and lose that blood forever.
My stubborness succeeded my patience when I lost it to more difficult bosses, dissuaded from using my healing items in the fight and wasting them upon death. It was a treacherous way to learn, but when I had used all my blood vials I was forced to go grind an inhabited sector of the city for my precious healing items.
Consider this a very big crutch under the arm of progress. I walked when I should have ran, but the only thing stopping me was the manufactured need for replenishable health, something I was not used to stocking up on (see Dark Souls). As it turns out, every boss in the game became 90% easier with twenty (max) blood vials, also something I was not used to.
Movements were fast, unnaturally so. This made for a good challenge when facing NPCs who dodged as much as I did, carried the weapons that I had, and had the audacity to wear my clothes. They showed a capacity I had not seen before, but also a capacity I recognized all too well.
Trick weapons were the main weapons of choice, right-handed sticks of steel that transformed from one weapon to another with the flick of a button or the seal of a sword in sheath. Weapons weren’t very rife, but amongst them several favourites could be found. Guns from blunderbusses to cannons could be found, chucking hot lead into the faces of enemies, parrying and riposting them in two simple moves.
The amount of weapons offered little variation with narrow skills as even the strong
movesets were faster than most enemies, one of which I lovingly dubbed “Mister Bricks”. There was Strength, Skill (dexterity), Bloodtinge (guns), and Arcane, all of which seemed interchangeable at a moments notice. There were benefits to be gained from skill-dumping levels into one path, and several playthroughs down the line would assure this.
Upon my path I found that I could use lanterns to return to a central hub known as “The Hunter’s Dream”. Every time you used a lantern you would be ported to the eponymous dream without being allowed to sit at the lantern, so let me take a moment to defend this purpose. First and foremost, for those who may not know, the dream is a place where one will be restored to full health, can level up, shop, upgrade, and hangout with relative peace and quiet from the terrifying world above.
Long loading screens aside, The Hunter’s Dream changes with the story, often new dialogue or events escalating as the hunt progresses. By automatically redirecting you to this euphoric oasis, one has a moment to reassess the situation, restock supplies, and remember to do tasks otherwise forgotten. This becomes especially important in key parts of the story and is done in part to diminish confusion no matter how inconvenient.
Chapter 2 – The Eldritch Epidemic
Yharnam grew on me as soon as I stepped foot inside, but one thing is for certain: there was much less than I expected, and much more to be had. The complexity of the compact city reflected its inhabitants, helping me to actualize myself as a hunter, dodging crowds of sentient villagers, tearing apart hordes of virulent beasts, and dueling witches on the edges of cliffs.
The sheer beauty of it all was one to acknowledge, taking a moment to stand still and watch the lurid moon play tricks upon the exalted spires and monolithic towers. I felt like an ant under the lead boot of a feverish omnipotence, but I enjoyed every second of it.
The enemies were much more creative than they ever could be, sporting design and care for what they lacked in movesets, however, solace could be found in the throes of the Chalice dungeons. These randomized, seeded pits of despair were a curious respite from the main story, a contradictory haven where one felt like a true dungeon-crawler, wading through enemies in order to demolish the decrepit hosts.
Giant beast, denizens who played on my futility were not hard to get to in the Chalice dungeons, and within the world above it seemed the more difficult it was to go from lantern to boss correlated negatively to how difficult the boss itself was.
Several times I met enemies who endowed me with a status effect known as “Frenzy”, a superlative effect that ravaged one’s health until blood shot out every orifice. Spikes in challenge, like the Frenzy enemies, were discordant in some respects, eschewing meticulous design for operative convenience, but the curve was met with enthusiasm and dread, all the same.
The world was constructed in a way not dissimilar to Dark Souls in a vehemently labyrinthian way. In some cases I could feel my stomach churning as I slipped past enemies undetected with new stealth options, only to run into a fight I could have never planned for. Trying and trying again was the only solution, finding new ways to circumvent tougher enemies, dispose of the annoying ones, and ultimately tread the paths least traveled, for down these paths a darkness coiled in listless slumber.
Chapter 3 – Fear
You can consume skulls found around the world known as “Madman’s Knowledge”. Without saying too much, it allows you to gain insight into the world around you, opening figurative locks within your perception, often evoking both subtle and conspicuous changes in the world around you. Even looking upon certain beasts and bosses, areas and events, all can give you insight into the cruelties of your host city, Yharnam.
I said earlier that Bloodborne descends from Lovecraftian roots, and it is this descent that is the most incredible Lovecraftian experience I’ve had outside reading his work directly. Abominations surround you, voices beckon you or shriek in terror when you consume more Madman’s Knowledge, and the enemies you fight become more ferocious, products of your mind dissolving.
There were several moments within Yharnam where I felt like a paranormal investigator working for the university in one of Lovecraft’s books. I was finding ancient runes, creatures of incomprehension, and watching lost souls creep into the clutches of madness.
Bram Stoker’s influence made an appearance as well, briefly shadowing a Dracula (minus the vampires) sub-plot over my head as well as several occurrences of unnatural behavior in the city’s surrounding areas. Hamlets shrouded in woods filled to the brim with witch-like folk and cobbling feral lunacy, demonic creatures in the woods preying on the lost adventurer I felt I had become, and Damocles reminding me that my next step of avarice could mean my death and several levels of experience lost.
At least two times I can recall I had felt true and absolute terror preluding abject afterthoughts. Many times I had to go and meditate in The Hunter’s Dream for several minutes, adrenaline tearing laps through my veins, remembering the sanctity of my Hunter’s head space.
At least one of those intense moments was caused by a stray NPC.
It was this thrilling and trying journey, a resolution compounded by complete disregard for my comprehension of the story, and a sinister undertone echoing in my head many hours after the PS4 had been turned off, all combined into a journey that may never end.
I wanted to go back, seeking the ins and outs of a world that lifted not a single finger to captivate me. So, with a fashionable walking stick, a gun in my hand, and a lantern at my side, I started anew.