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The End

Thank you to everyone that has ever been a fan of Pixelpine or any of our amazing writers over the years. After starting this in 2013 as an experiment of my own in both webdesign and journalism it is now the official end of Pixelpine.com

I’d like to thank all of our writers:

Chris Ryan, Logan MacGillivray, Samuel Sharpe, Michael Tatar, and Ben Volpe.

And also a thank you to all other contributors including:

Joseph Coluccio, Quint Austin, Chris Har, Imran Haji, Matthew Kiel, and Antonio Guillien.


This website wouldn’t have been so amazing without all of you. Thanks for sharing in this journey with me. I love you all.

For anyone interested in my future endeavors head to brianspagnoli.com and follow me on twitter @zombiexsp

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Wolfenstein: The Old Blood brings back the classic video game feel to the new generation | Review

The Wolfenstein franchise is over 30 years old, and since 2009 has begun being rebooted for contemporary consoles. While the 2009 release didn’t fare particularly well on the Xbox 360 and PS3, this latest installments including Wolfenstein: The Old Blood from MachineGames and Bethesda Softworks is the perfect approach to introducing the old arcadey style from its early days as Wolfenstein 3D to the modern style first-person shooters have today.

Wolfenstein merges the old with the new and does it really damn well.

There's some flashes of beautiful vistas, skyboxes, and ruins amid the death and destruction.
There’s some flashes of beautiful vistas, skyboxes, and ruins amid the death and destruction.

The developers at MachineGames weren’t looking to completely conform to what the prototypical modern first-person shooter is now — and it’s awesome. What they made is truly fun to play. It takes the FPS gameplay trends of the late 90s and reintroduces them to many gamers who have not experienced them. It’s not flashy and it’s not a game riddled with little gimmicks.

Heck, the game can get pretty chaotic at points with that slight touch of the old rapid movement of the first FPS games like Doom, Marathon, and Wolfenstein 3D. But duel wielding shotguns and Ak47s while flying down corridors and the ruins of Castle Wolfenstein make the experience as fun as a game can be.

Even the setting is a tad off-putting for those not familiar with the Wolfenstein franchise. A Nazi-controlled alternate universe set in 1946 with America still fighting despite bleak circumstances.

Players are placed in the shoes of B. J. Blackowicz, a U.S. marine helping to lead the fight back against the Nazi oppression. The main mission for Blazkowicz is to find Helga Von Schabbs, commanding officer of Castle Wolfenstein. Blazkowicz is set forth to find and capture documents that could potentially help win the war for the U.S.

And while that’s absurd itself the game takes a dramatic sci-fi esque turn later in the story.

*Spoiler Alert*

The game initially plays in a somewhat reasonable setting, but as the game progresses through the eight-chapter long campaign the developers take some fantastic creative liberties opening up a world of zombie-apocalypse with flaming — yes, flaming — Nazi zombies raining down from above. Even further down the line, the story’s primary antagonist — Helga von Schabbs unlocks the uncovered demon/monster creature from the dark depths of ancient ruins.

*End of Spoiler*

Any sense of realism in this game can be quickly dismissed.

This is what a pure video game should be.

Exageratted physics, overpowered characters, and the ability to withstand multiple (graphic) stab wounds adds enough ridiculousness that a hint of comedy is in almost everything as well.

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Adding to that is the sometimes cheesy dialogue with an overly badass main character  taunting the enemies around him.

Blazkowicz serves as the primary protagnist for the entirety of the story, and “badass” really isn’t quite a strong enough word. His attitude oozes confidence and stares down the face of those who would like to (and do) stab him in the face repeatedly with no remorse as he mows them down and attacks back with his trusty (and rusty) iron pipe.

The iron pipe is one of the first weapons and tools shown to players and serves a variety of uses from wall climbing like a mountain climber to killing your Nazi/zombie/mech opposition.

While the rusty piece of piping is certainly the most versatile weapon in the game, there are six main weapons — the Handgun 1946, Assault Rifle, Schockhammer Shotgun, Double-Barreled Shotgun, Bombenschuss rifle, and Kampfpistol.

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Each weapon is well balanced with no being too overpowered to be deemed better in every situation over anything else. In addition, each enemy has specific niches that give players the opportunity to think more creatively with how to kill them.

While the combat is great, it is very fast paced and some players that are used to contemporary shooters may find it disorienting at first. The game does allow you to aim down the sites for more precision like contemporary games, but it is definitely much more fun to just go berserk dual-wielding and hip-firing shotguns or other guns.

And fun is what this game is all about.

Which leads to an unfortunate aspect of the game that inhibits how enjoyable it could be with friends — the lack of multiplayer. While a full online multiplayer system complete with lobbies, ranking, classes, and more is understandably not fitting for the game nor likely in the budget with just the $40 price tag, a small local co-op mode would have been extraodinarily well-placed in the challenge mode that is also offered in the game.

Challenge mode lets players rack up points and fight for high scores against an endless onslaught of enemies from every chapter in the game. It’s an excellent addition to add a touch of replayability in a game that doesn’t offer too much more after beating the game the first time.

It’s very surprising to not see multiplayer incorporated into this game mode whether it be online or local.

The lack of multiplayer is about the only drawback of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood.

wolfenstein the old blood 5

However, even with the fault of no multiplayer the game is still incredibly enjoyable and well worth it for the campaign alone. Currently available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC Wolfenstein: The Old Blood offers a blast-from-the-past style gameplay reminiscing the classic Wolfenstein 3D game and brings a great level of pure fun, silliness, and insanity that isn’t always prevalent on modern consoles. It’s lack of multiplayer is disheartening, but not dismissing of how enjoyable this campaign is.

8.9/10

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is currently available for Xbox One, PS4, and PC retailing at $19.99.

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Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc | Review

To simplify the description of this game, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a murder mystery visual novel. However, it’s unique mechanics and cast of colorful characters are what makes it a memorable experience.

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Story

The game takes place at a prestigious school called Hope’s peak Academy. A high school that hand picks students of the highest caliber in “whatever: skill that may be; with an emphasis on whatever. Giving their students a variety of titles like the “Ultimate Baseball Star” and “Ultimate Programmer” to the “Ultimate Fanfic Creator” or the “Ultimate Biker Gang Leader.” How these skills are academically related is unbeknownst to me but that’s beside the point. The school wants the best of the best no matter where it comes from.

All of this is explained to you by protagonist Makoto Naegi, who is the Ultimate Luck Student, as he is about to walk through the school doors. In a sudden twist of events, he falls unconscious upon entering the lobby and finds himself waking up in a random classroom. After he finds other people in the gymnasium it is revealed that there are also fourteen other students who passed out and don’t remember anything past entering the school lobby.

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Cute, yet disturbing.

After character introductions and some confusion on what has happened to them, a cute yet disturbing looking bear appears. Calling himself ‘Monokuma,’ he jubilantly and enthusiastically explains that everyone is trapped in the school and the only way out is to kill another student and get away with the murder. However, if the murderer is proven innocent, everyone else will be executed.

Aesthetic

There are several different art styles that can be found throughout the game but it’s obvious pop art was an influential factor. When roaming about the school, environments and characters have shadows that actually separate from it’s castor when changing the viewing angle which makes everything appear as if they’ve sprung out of a pop-up book. High quality vector graphics are used when engaging in conversations and cutscenes look like someone had painted in water color with thick coats of paint.

There’s is also one other feature that should be mentioned. When the game was originally released in Japan on the PSP, the creators decided to change the color of blood to pink in order to be less controversial. This minute change adds so much charm to the already charismatic game and has become a defining trait of the entire series.

No this is not a spoiler
Relax, this is not a spoiler.

Gameplay

After somebody has been killed, you are then tasked to search the crime scene and relevant locations to gather evidence as to who committed the murder. Since this is a visual novel, majority of the time is spent reading dialogue. Talking to people may give you clues on where to look, provide alibis for yourself or other characters, or that they’ve noticed something that can aid your investigation. However, investigations aren’t timed and you cannot progress until everything is found. Even if you don’t know where to look, pulling up the map will tell you where you need to be with a red “!”.

After the evidence has been gathered, you participate in a class trial, which is the most engaging aspect of the entire game. Trials are separated into four different segments; Nonstop Debate, Hangman’s Gambit, Bullet Time Battle, and Closing Argument.

Nonstop Debates are when everyone reviews the circumstance around the crime and give assertions as to what happened. On the upper right side of your screen is your health and on the bottom left is a revolver cylinder next to a bullet that is labeled with one of the evidence was found. During the discussion, certain phrases will be highlighted that may or may not be contradictions to what is being said or information that you are aware of. Those are considered weak points in a person’s argument and as the player, it is your job to choose the correct bullet that will discredit what that person has said. In a way, you’re “shooting down” a person’s argument. Shooting down the wrong phrase will diminish everyone’s trust towards you and decrease your health.

Hangman’s Gambit is where you assist Makoto find a word that will help him solidify his line of reasoning in the trial. Letters will appear in Makoto’s head and you have to shoot the missing letters of the word in chronological order. Often, you’ll be perplexed as to what on earth that word could be, but finding the first two letters will probably remove any confusion. A lot of those “Aha moments” can be found here.

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In the Closing Argument, the murderer is portrayed as an androgynous gray figure.

Bullet Time Battle is beat/rhythm mini-game that occurs when a character refuses to listen to what’s being said in the trial. You’ll then have to shoot down their statements and claims with your bullets while still maintaining a rhythm that gets progressively faster.

Lastly, there is the Closing Argument which, in my opinion, is the best part of the entire game. You have to reconstruct the events of the the crime in the form of a comic book strip. The strip will have missing frames but they can be found at the bottom of the screen as bubbles. Putting the bubbles in the correct frame will allow Makoto to relay the events of crime in sequential order and prove who the murderer is.

Characters

Between plot progression and class trials are moments where you have free time. You can use this time to explore the school or spend time with the other students who are trapped with you. In the vain of visual novels, spending time with someone will increase your friendship and allows you to learn more about that person. In Danganronpa’s case, you’ll learn how and why each person became the “Ultimate___Student”, what they hoped to achieve at this school, and an even learn about some of the insecurities that they wish to overcome. Unfortunately, there is barely enough time to do this with one character let alone all fourteen.

There is a School Mode option, a “what if” scenario where murders don’t occur, that is available after completing the game. It is possible max out your friendships in this mode but it only accentuates how much the main game would have benefited from then extra character information because it’s really the dynamics between characters that make it an such an enjoyable experience.

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Because everyone is an “Ultimate___Student”, they all have extreme personalities to match their affluent skill. Each person reacts to their current dire situation differently and although everyone shares the same goal of leaving the school, they all have their own methods to achieve that goal which will often create conflict amongst one another. Animosity between individuals can manifest itself during trials adds to tension the tension that already exists.

There will be characters that you like, love, hate, love to hate, find annoying, think are shallow, stupid, or un-empathetic but each of them adds to the experience of the game.

Even Monokuma remains charismatic whenever he bursts into a scene to fulfill his role as the antagonist as well as the comedic relief.

The biggest downside to Danganronpa is that their is no real punishment for your actions. You’re never unprepared for a trial; if you fail a trial you don’t have to start over, just restart at the part you messed up on; and when dialogue trees are presented, you can just re-pick them after getting it wrong. However, that’s not really much of an issue because the real reason your playing this game is for the story and characters. Any kind of gameplay reasoning that would halt or undo your progression may have severely harmed the enjoyment of the game.

Verdict

Danganronpa is at the very least a memorable experience; as a game and as a visual novel. Veterans of visual novels will find something special that differentiates itself from other titles. For anyone who’s willing to try something outside of their comfort zone or has wanted to try a visual novel, this is a great place to start. If you do not find the idea of reading dialogue between characters as if it were a book appealing, Danganronpa will probably not change your mind.

+class trials are an interesting implementation2015-07-19-111330

+characters keep things fresh and enjoyable

+Monokuma keeps everything lighthearted 

+every case has a twist that is revealed during the trial       

+pink blood  

+remains mysterious even after finishing the game

-mistakes can be redone/no real punishment

-not enough time to boost character relationships

+/school mode is great for those who want more but would have been more appreciated in the main game

Play Session: 25hr 29min 49sec

8.5/10


Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc was released on February 11, 2014 for the Playstation Vita. Developed by Spike Chunsoft and published by NIS America.

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Halo 3 ODST (MCC) brings a polarizing Halo experience to Xbox One | Review

When Halo 3 ODST first released back in 2009 on the Xbox 360 it was met with some conflicting criticism. This first-person shooter released for a full $60 but some suggested the amount of content within the game was simply not enough to warrant that. Other disagreed, as it gave Halo fans a new experience along with an incredible story playing as an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. This approach gives players a new vulnerability and a new take on combat in Halo games.

As the game re-releases on the Xbox One for a very modest $5, it would feel wrong not to have an extended review of the game branching off the full Master Chief Collection review. (If you haven’t read it yet check it out here!)

While Halo 3 ODST is not actually part of the direct story of Master Chief, much of its campaign ties in very well and in a fairly clear manner with the beginning of Halo 3 starting just as ODST ends. Like Halo 3, the fighting is focused on Earth — unlike Halo 3, players take on a role of a much more humble ODST soldier. Throughout the game players cycle through five soldiers with the Rookie serving as the single chararcter players consistently come back to as he tries to uncover the mystery of where his lost squad mates are.

Gameplay

Halo 3 ODST mixes a stealthy approach to combat and the classic Halo formula and it yields fantastic results.
Halo 3 ODST mixes a stealthy approach to combat and the classic Halo formula and it yields fantastic results.

Gameplay wise, the game plays directly off of the Halo 3 engine, but for those that never liked the run-and-gun Halo style that has become synonymous with the franchise this gameplay may be more enticing to you. As an ODST soldier your player is just a tad slower than the Master Chief and also has significantly weaker shields and health. This forces players to turn elsewhere for a tactical advantage — and that advantage comes in stealth.

ODST focuses immensely on stealth when playing as the Rookie, but does open up a bit more when playing as the other characters in missions. When not on a specific mission players continue as the Rookie searching the New Mombasa streets for your team. When going through the world as the Rookie the game invokes a feeling of needing to be careful — needing to be smart about each approach to combat.

The entire game slows down with this new approach and offers gamers a much greater opportunity to appreciate the art-design, music, and other aesthetics that make the game so unique in the Halo universe.

Though when you do take control of the other characters and the fire-fights get a bit more intense the classic Halo feel comes out in a fairly balanced way. Your character is still weak, but stealth isn’t a necessity. Even six years after it released this balance plays perfectly.

Story

Each piece of the puzzle brings you closer to unlocking the mystery surrounding the ODST squad.
Each piece of the puzzle brings you closer to unlocking the mystery surrounding the ODST squad.

While the gameplay is terrific, the story is what will likely draw most fans in. Taking place on Earth in the African city of New Mombasa, Halo 3 ODST takes players through five individual stories of each member of a single ODST squad that had their mission derailed by another commanding officer — Captain Veronica Dare.

As the squad “prepares to drop” into battle their drop-pods are sent awry into the New Mombasa city after their intended place of descent — a covenant cruiser — jumps into slip-space.

From the beginning players take on the role of the aforementioned Rookie who the game pulls back to after each mission. The Rookie is a completely silent protaganist, but the rest of the squad is as vocal as they can be with Gunnery Sergeant Buck, played by Nathan Fillion, being the most prominent of them all.

Also joining the team is Mickey, Dutch, Romeo, and Captain Dare.

The events of Halo 3 ODST are crucial for any fan of the Halo lore. Sergeant Buck and his role in Halo 5 can be traced back to what happens with his ODST squad — though for the sake of avoiding any spoilers, nothing specific will be mentioned in this review.

The entire game plays as a mystery on the Rookie’s end and uncovering that serves as the primary focus all game long. The story is greatly benefited by a collection of audio logs that can be found throughout the city. These audio logs explain the story of Sadie and Vergil — the superintendent program for managing New Mombasa’s public services. While the story is fantastic to play through without this side story, it is truly fulfilling when you find them all. All in all, the Halo 3 ODST campaign is one of the best stories you can currently play on the Xbox One.

Firefight

While the Xbox One version of Halo 3 ODST omits a popular multiplayer game mode that was originally included in the game, it is only fair to make mention of it. Halo 3 ODST includes a 4-player online co-op mode called Firefight which offers a wave-by-wave experience of mowing down covenant. The mode takes small sections of the ODST campaign and creates an area for players to defend together. Firefight is an excellent side to the main game and offers a great arcadey-style with an unlimited number of rounds. A squad simply plays until they run out of a lives with each wave getting subsequently stronger. Though the game mode was good fun, it is but one small drawback in an overall, great game.

Roundup

Good story, good gameplay. What’s not to like?

Halo 3 ODST is well worth the five bucks that Microsoft will be charging for the DLC to the Master Chief Collection. The gameplay is still spectacular, and the mood is set wonderfully playing as the Rookie and the way it contrasts to the typical Halo games is done so tastefully. And while Master Chief isn’t a main character in the game, the story of this squad and what happens in New Mombasa is intrinsic in the overall story of Halo and Buck’s progression ties in fittingly with the upcoming Halo 5.

9/10

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The Inkredible World of Splatoon

Let's get messy.
Let’s get messy.

Splatoon is the Wii U’s first foray into the genre of Team Shooter’s. Although it has it’s faults, Splatoon is a wonderfully chaotic game that offers new game mechanics in a genre that has become over-saturated by post-apocalyptic tropes and ultra real graphics. Deep in it’s pools of ink, there is an addicting, surprisingly intricate multiplayer shooter.

Inkredible
Inkredible

Splatoon is a gorgeous game. The bright colors and superb lighting do an incredible job of immersing you in a world of gooey greatness. The ink effects are reminiscent to Super Mario Sunshine’s use of goop, while the skateboard/punk culture of Splatoon is similar to the style of Jet Set Radio for the Dreamcast. It successfully blends the two but gives the game an indefinable look that is entirely its own.

No Squidding around.
No Squidding around.

Rather than eliminating your opponent, the objective of the game is to claim as much of the map in your ink while simultaneously defending your area from rivals looking to do the same. This is where Splatoon shines, as the Wii U’s HD capability is put to full use as you drench the arena in your glorious ink. The single player campaign is short, but it offers a solid 6-8 play through, although it tends to feel repetitive.

Online battles are 4v4 3 minute matches of colorful chaos. As soon as the match begins, your squid-like characters begin to spray the arena in a mad frenzy. Although battles are only 3 minutes, the action never ceases. The frantic spraying and squirting will keep you coming back in your attempt to dominate the arena. The introduction of your Squidling is an excellent addition to the shooter genre as it allows you to move around in the ink in your squid form, rather then the usual fare of running around looking for opponents.

The influence of Super Mario Sunshine can be seen throughout the game.
The influence of Super Mario Sunshine can be seen throughout the game.

Splatoon is a breath of fresh air within the shooter genre. It may not have the cutting edge graphics of a modern Call of Duty or the grittiness of Fallout (Both are great games), however, Splatoon has heart. The gorgeous colors, the upbeat music, and the addicting game play is a testament to not only the Wii U’s potential, but to Nintendo’s philosophy that great game play makes a great game.

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Audiosurf 2: Surfing Your Music, Again | Review

Audiosurf_2_header

Now, as Audiosurf 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.2015-05-31_00016

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.

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Pictured: A dusk commute

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.2015-05-31_00006

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.2015-05-31_00007

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.

7.4/10


Audiosurf 2 is developed by Dylan Fitterer and can be found on Steam for $14.99

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Uncanny Valley | Review

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.steamworkshop_webupload_previewfile_254647598_preview (1)

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.steamworkshop_webupload_previewfile_254647598_preview (3)

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. tumblr_nl9qo8aoVZ1tud87po1_500

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.

6/10


 

Uncanny Valley is developed by Cowardly Creations and is available on Steam or their website for $8.99

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State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition | Review

As just an arcade game, you expect a lower quality narrative, weak gameplay mechanics, an underwhelming map, or just a game that gives you what you pay for, but Undead Lab brings all of these things to State of Decay and in their most recent release of Year One: Survival Edition even more of the zombie-killing and community-survival content is made available with the major add-ons Breakdown and Lifeline included for no additional cost.

From the first few initial steps State of Decay seems to be a very one dimensional and linear experience with players taking control of Marcus Campbell who introduces the very basic gameplay mechanics. Over a short 10-20 minute tutorial zone at Tanner Lake some intrinsic concepts for the game are shown to make this zombie action game come to life in its own way. As soon as players understand the basics of the gameplay and learn the best ways to slaughter zombies — whether it be by one of the many firearms (consisting of shotguns, pistols, assault rifles, hunting rifles, and more) or any of the various melee weapons.

Though when the combat does begin it does become evident that there are some issues with the A.I. Too often do the zombies look irate and ready to attack, yet they take the most asinine path to the player and break any sense of immediate fear of the zombies.

The atmosphere is set well, but the enemies can sometimes break that immersion.

Looking past the A.I. trouble, the appreciation for the scope of the map can’t be understated. Trumbull Valley offers a huge slate of land to explore and decapitate the undead in — the world is quickly opened up in a grand fashion with plenty of options for players.

Two small towns, one modest city, and plenty of small isolated farms houses and cottages are present in Trumbull Valley to give players more than enough world to explore and pillage. The world is fairly large, and gives players different types of approaches to traveling through it. Many cars, trucks, and SUVs are scattered across the land that offers the quickest and easiest way to get from point A to point B. But these vehicles are loud, and it’s made clear from the beginning the zeds don’t like loud. So to avoid the constant barrage of the undead attacking it sometimes is best to venture out on foot — but the same idea of noise being bad remains. Running is useful, but it’ll attract a bit more trouble than you might want to deal with. Sneaking is incredibly slow, but you’re certainly safest when keeping your head down. Each method offers its own advantages and disadvantages. The concept of balancing speed and danger is well thought out.

Driving is a bit touchy though. For a game that puts a great deal of emphasis on the medium of travel the control is far too arcade-y to create a fluid experience while driving. After hitting a few zombies there are glaringly obvious coded points where the car is damaged. The lack of a dynamic feel to impacting zombies leaves the driving as very simple and immersion-breaking.

Vehicles are crucial assets to survival in State of Decay.
Vehicles are crucial assets to survival in State of Decay.

Each area also incorporates a “survey point” high above the ground which reveals a bit more detail about the area. It doesn’t just reveal buildings or structures though. The locations of cars, zombie hordes, and special infected “freaks” are displayed. The hordes usually have roughly ten zombies and are tough to deal with on foot, but the cars come in extra handy here as they can be mowed down in one quick drift through the center of the group. Special infected roam the streets with each proving to be a bit tougher to take down than standard zeds.

The background story is well constructed to adhere to the dynamic gameplay and characters that State of Decay permits. While you do start off with Marcus Campbell, he is certainly not the primary protagonist. There are up to ten possible characters that players can befriend and take control of as they scavenge the zombie wasteland. The ability to switch is well constructed and offers various small twists to how players can approach the game with different personalities and traits to each of these playable characters. Switching is relatively simple to do from accessing a simple in-game journal and selecting the character you’d like to switch to. Though when changing characters you’ll be forced out to a loading menu each time which can break the immersion of the atmosphere.

Characters are made with personality.

As the world is opened up so does a plethora of playable content with an endless stream of potential side missions to take off to. Most consist of either taking down a beefed up zombie with some special abilities or saving a lost survivor under distress. The missions are well constructed, but the basic concepts are fairly simple and can get repetitive if multiple missions are played consecutively — which is tempting to do considering the sheer amount of times that these side missions are made available.

state of decay 3
Store your scavenged supplies at your home base.

The amount of content in the game is truly the best quality. The side missions are sometimes repetitive, but there is a major emphasis on the pure survival aspect with the playable characters working to gather resources from the deserted and zombie-infested houses within the game world. Things like food, ammunition, and construction supplies are valuable assets in keeping your community flourishing and happy. Where-ever it is that players elect to put up “home base” the amount of customization within the encampment is very respectable with mechanic workshops, weaponry workbenches, watchtowers, and more bonuses and additions to improve the quality of life for the survivors. These available tasks and additions create consistent goals to work towards even when the game’s last main story mission is completed.

The campaign is decent with solid structure though part of me wants a more detailed narrative. The structured parts of the story itself don’t do as much to captivate players as does the bickering heard between survivors and the personality that each person has. Having a detailed explanation of each character’s history does wonders for creating a sense of consideration for others — reiterating that each character is important, but flawed. Some are fitness nuts, some are “movie trivia experts,” and some are even psychopaths among many other character traits.

Despite the A.I. issues and rough un-finished feel, the developers at Undead Labs show a great concept and desire in creating an interesting experience rather than just churning out another generic zombie game. The gameplay makes the wasteland feel one of a kind while the story of each character makes the world feel personal.

And now with this year-one “Survival Edition” has the game going on even when the standard world grows stale. Both Breakdown and Lifeline — two major DLC that had released partway through the Xbox 360 iteration of State of Decay’s lifespan.

DLC

 


Breakdown

Breakdown adds the ability to not plateau as a well-operating community. The add-on offers the same setting as the regular State of Decay with Trumbull Valley and operates as a second game mode. Some new elements are introduced to keep the action going just when you get comfortable. The add-on is a great challenge and gives players that opportunity to unlock more and more possible “heroes” (playable characters) as you accomplish things.

The biggest story change in Breakdown is the immediately evident goal of escaping the town in a run-down RV. As players survive the regular chaos of zombie hordes roaming the streets and special infected terrorizing everything in sight, small bits and pieces to repair the RV are available and scavenged for. Once the RV is finally repaired six survivors can be chosen to join you as you move to “level 2.” The next level is somewhat disappointingly the same map again, but this time with all resources reset. Though there isn’t an extra world to explore, the DLC serves as a great go-to once the standard campaign is completed.

Lifeline

Unlike Breakdown, Lifeline adds an entire new world and story for players to enjoy but this time it’s from a new perspective — the military’s. Almost everywhere you turn in the base game the survivors are constantly complaining of the lack of military aid to the people. Lifeline explains the reasoning behind the military’s actions and makes them seem much less like the “bad-guy” in the game.

This story is set in a dense city just outside of Trumbull Valley. A single highway is the focal point of travel but the environment as a whole is much more condensed than it initially appears. Undead Labs does a great job of making it seem as though the city is massive, when in reality the playable areas are often secluded and divided up into very small sections. In Trumbull Valley you can typically escape to any direction you look, but if you run into trouble here there’s no places to run. This forces players to combat the zombies head-on, and though it’s difficult to do as survivors, the military grade arsenal is enough support to make things a bit easier.

The DLC plays much more like a third-person shooter than it does in the base game. The ability to take a squad with you to rescue survivors or scavenge for supplies adds a different feel to the game, but the close-quarters setting feels claustrophobic and too closed off to be regarded as a must have addition to the core State of Decay experience.


 

State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition releases April 28 on both Xbox One and PC for $29.99.

8.4/10