Resonance of Fate Review

It’s safe to say that Japanese RPGs have suffered a decline in favour in the West in recent years. Under pressure from games such as Mass Effect and Fallout, popular opinion on this side of the Earth on has tended to regard them as antiquated or stale. The challenge then, to Japanese developers attempting to broaden their appeal outside of the domestic market, is to offer something new and original while retaining the core of what the JRPG genre is. A tough challenge no doubt, but one that Tri-Ace has taken on with its latest title, Resonance of Fate. Swords are out, guns are in. Bright, whimsical clothing has been replaced by more modern, and I dare say sensible, attire. Most importantly however, the turn based battle system, so often a focal point of criticism yet somehow integral to what makes a game a JRPG, has been overhauled and blended with some Western sensibilities. Resonance of Fate is the product of cross pollination of ideas between East and West and the result is truly unique.

A recurring theme among Japanese RPGs is that of the unlikely hero; untested in combat, unprepared for the responsibility thrust upon them. Not so in Resonance of Fate. From the off, you are introduced to three hired guns, mercenaries of the guild who are cocky and aware of their aptitude for battle. However, the introduction of guns is not a license for Marcus Fenix and his troops to march into Final Fantasy. The characters in Tri Ace’s latest retain the innocent charm of Japanese adolescent leads. The story takes place, not in a vast world, but in a single city. In the wake of a global disaster, people have retreated to the tower of Basel; a bleak, dirty city where nature has no place. The plot is laid out in chapters, bite sized storylines which initially seem unconnected. Much of the first few hours will be spent scratching your head looking for context and in the end, the story is hit or miss. The real driving force in the narrative is the relationship between your party. One chapter in particular is laugh out loud funny and over all, Resonance of Fate is aided by some great voice acting headed up by one Nolan North of ‘Uncharted’ fame. The three leads never fall on the wrong side of snarky and it’s a nice change to have characters that are both likeable and genuinely funny.

One word of advice that should be heeded before broaching the world of Resonance of Fate is to read the in game manual. The battle system and world map are completely unique to the game and though initially confusing, prove to be the best reasons to play it. Unlike Final fantasy XIII, which drip fed new abilities to the player over the course of many hours, almost every mechanic in Resonance is available right from the off. However, it will take many hours to fully get to grips with them and some, such as the tri-attack are best left to the side until you have the resources to implement them effectively. Knowing when not to use an ability is as crucial as knowing when to go all out. It’s difficult to describe the flow of battle without handing over the controller. It is most certainly turn based, you have as much time as you need to plan strategy and tactics but once you press the go button, you have to rely on timing and quick thinking. Enemies are free to move and attack while you do and should they hit a character charging an attack, the charge is cancel and it’s back to square one. This can be negated by using a Hero attack, which sets the player character running across the map and allows the player to target and charge freely though at the cost of a bezel. Bezels are HP reserves and losing all of them sends the entire team into an emergency state where attacks are greatly weakened and hero attacks are no longer available. It all sounds very complicated and in truth it is but persevere and the game will reveal a battle system of great depth that is both rewarding and very fun to experiment with.

There is so much more could be said about how Resonance of Fate handles combat, but to go further would simply confuse what has already been said. It is spectacular to look at and is easily the games greatest success. Other elements however, are less successful. Apart from the overall plot, which is lacking, Basel suffers from a disappointing level of variety. The rust filled, steam punk setting is pretty certainly, but it all blends together after many hours of play. The colour palette never alters dramatically and even locations which should promise something new inevitably turn up more greys and dull reds.  The over map is tiled based and pieces must be placed to advance. These hexes are picked up from slayed opponents and players are free to choose to make a beeline toward the next objective or spend tiles exploring the immediate area in search of loot. Random battles come at just the right frequency to avoid getting frustrating though exploring goes little further than the tile map, as the ‘dungeons’ in the game are simply arenas chained together. It’s an original take on a world map and the tile based mini game breaks up the flow by cleverly allowing you to progress at your own pace.

The character models are gorgeous to look at.

Resonance of Fate also re-examines how clothing and equipment is handled. The game allows you to dress your characters as you see fit and without concern for how it will affect their stats. Everything from boots to coats to eye colour can be customised all for the good of looking fabulous. All of the cutscenes are rendered in game so the changes you make to the characters are reflected as the story unfolds, which is nice touch. Weapons also are treated differently. It’s likely that your entire team will be using the exact same guns they started as much as 8 or 9 hours into the game. However it’s possible to customise and augment them with everything from new sights to extra capacity magazines and they have a tangible effect on the weapons. Parts can be bought, or built with scrap earned from winning battles, which fits nicely with the theme of Bazel and its ragdag aesthetic.

With Resonance of Fate, Tri-Ace has given the JRPG a shot in the arm. It implements many changes to convention but never sacrifices its core. Admittedly, some of the changes don’t quite work, a greater variety of weapons is especially needed. With a tightened plot, a more varied setting and a more interesting take on dungeons, Tri Ace has a potential classic on its hands. As it stands, they have produced a flawed gem. However, its real importance lies in its successful blend of East and West sensibilities and if this is a sign on things to come, it would be unwise to think that Japanese RPGs have no room left for innovation.

This post originally appeared here


Kane and Lynch 2 Review

The original Kane and Lynch was a perfect example of a game that rode in on a wave of hype, only to be met by apathy when it reached the shore. With Kane and Lynch: Dog Days, IO Interactive have returned to bring a game that strips away many of the cumbersome mechanics and revamps the presentation and visual style of the original.Set over the course of 48 hours, Dog Days follows the pair as they attempt to escape Shanghai after a job goes horribly wrong. The ‘Fragile Alliance’ multiplayer mode also makes a welcome return, with several variants to shake up the mix.

The first thing people will notice about Kane and Lynch: Dog Days, is it’s grainy, handheld recorder quality visuals. That’s not to say the game looks bad, quite the opposite in fact. Artifacting, colour bleed, unsteady framing; all of the elements you expect to see in a video on Youtube combine here to create a Shanghai that feels lived in. Too grim to be called beautiful, the environments do an admirable job in setting the tone the rest of the game follows. It’s not a style everyone will appreciate; some may find it too difficult to pick out specific points or enemies on screen for example, but for those it clicks with, the presentation will be one of the high points of Dog Days.

The realistic, grounded feel of the game carries over to the weapons. However, in contrast most games, which allow you to headshot enemies with a pistol from hundreds of feet away, the majority of the guns in Dog Days have the accuracy equivalent of blind firing in most other games. This didn’t bother me so much as the game is supposed to be played quick and dirty, dropping and picking up weapons every minute or so, but the lack of punch from the guns at a distance compounded the problem significantly. At times I could empty an entire clip and the target would still be standing at the end of it. In contrast, the shotguns are viciously lethal from a distance, unbalancing the game somewhat. The solution is to get in tight and attack up close. However, get to close to an enemy and they will headshot you for a one hit kill. What this adds up to is a game that should be played in close quarters, but keeps you at arm’s length. This is particularly a problem because with one exception, the entirety of the game is running and gunning. The running works fine, and the cover system has no issues, but the gunplay can let Dog Days down at times.

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is short. I beat it in about 5 or 6 hours, but I could have gone through it even quicker and even at that I was playing the campaign solo. It’s not inconceivable that in 2 player co op, the story could be beaten in 4 or 5 hours. There are downloadable titles that have longer campaigns for a fraction of the price of a retail release. However, lengthening out the package are the multiplayer modes. Rather than the titular anti-heroes, you play as unnamed criminals as they take on various heists across Shanghai. After the cash has been grabbed, the race is on to get to the getaway vehicle. The twist is that, from that point on, anyone can turn traitor and try take the entire score for yourself. Trying to take on the AI and the other players is a daunting task and many a heist will fail because you simply get too greedy. If you want to avoid confrontation, you can also pay the wheelman to leave the others behind, but this requires you to get there first, and half of the kitty. It’s only a viable option if you have the vast majority of the cash, but it means that if you’ll always be racing to get to the van first and adds a good bit of haste to the proceedings. ’Undercover Cop’ has the same setup, but one player is chosen at random to foil the robbery. Without raising the suspicions of the others, the undercover cop must take them down, whilst avoiding killing other police. It’s fraught, tense and most often ends in a bloodbath.Multiplayer is the highlight of Kane and Lynch 2, but it still relies on the same shooting that will turn many off the single player. It’s a pity that the guns can feel so off, because there’s really nothing quite like the game types on offer.

Kane and Lynch 2 is a far better game than the original. However it still has a long way to go before it can be recommended against Gears of War and Resident Evil 5. The story needed not just to be longer, but to have more. It’s a relief that the broken squad commands and awkward scenarios are absent, but there’s nothing to replace them and what’s on offer ultimately boils down to a rudimentary, though eye-catching cover shooter.

This post originally appeared here

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood Review

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed series. I bought a 360 for the original and its sequel was one of my games of the year. So it was that the announcement of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood filled with me with dread. Like many, I first assumed it would be a multiplayer focused title, with the single player served as an afterthought. However, what Ubisoft have produced is a mammoth title, with an innovative take on multiplayer and the most expansive single player this side of Red Dead Redemption.

Ezio’s story seemed to wrap up pretty neatly at the end of AC II, but he’s back in a tale that takes him to the  streets of Rome and right into the heart of the Vatican… again. The story in this release doesn’t have the same drama as the location hoping, decades spanning tale we were treated to last year, but it still rises above most videogame offerings in no small part helped by the exceptional voice acting which rarely, if ever puts a foot wrong. Brotherhood also allows us yet more time with Desmond pushing his journey in new and unexpected ways.

Although Ezio moves from his villa in Monteriggioni, Desmond soon takes up residence, allowing a quick parkour session over parked cars and mopeds at night. It’s a small touch but getting to free run through a location with modern trappings is a nice change. However, Rome is the main attraction here and while it does offer a number of impressive sites (wait until you climb to the top of the Castel Sant’Angelo) Brotherhood falls short of the diversity of its predecessor, with regard to Venice and Forli in particular. Pop up also appears more noticeable, likely to be the result of the admittedly huge main location.

One area that Brotherhood completely outclasses the previous games is the secret temples. While they provided a welcome break from the city scaling antics of AC II, here they often outshine the main campaign in terms of spectacle. Racing through a cathedral under construction before scrambling across the rain slicked roof or infiltrating a fortress using the underwater canal network provides a more directed take on the assassin’s abilities setting up some truly memorable moments.

One of Brotherhood’s great improvements is that you can now replay any memory you’ve already completed meaning that these great sequences can by enjoyed multiple times without having to replay the entire campaign. They also give you the opportunity to shoot for ‘100 % synch’ by fulfilling certain conditions the game places on each memory. These include taking little to no damage, not getting caught or by assassinating a character a particular way.

In previous instalments of the franchise, the player had no choice but to get their hands dirty in the executions. Brotherhood changes this. As you burn down Borgia towers, you unlock slots to recruit initiates to the Creed. It would have been enough to allow Ezio to summon a helper every few minutes or so but instead they included a management system that many will lose hours to. Each assassin-in-training can be dispatched on missions around Europe or called in to help you, rising through the ranks to eventually become fully fledged assassins with a garb that mimics your own. It’s very empowering to walk into a restricted area and be challenged by guards, only to hold up your fist and have your minions leap from the shadows and dispatched you foes. When you finally accumulated three marks, Ezio can call on an “arrow storm” that instantly downs all guards within your vicinity. However, while it certainly is very satisfying, eventually the novelty wears off and you may be left wondering where the challenge went or even if the trade off is worth it.

The single player campaign is solid, but it is ultimately a selection of iterative improvements rather than a huge advancement for the franchise. If you want something completely new, look to the multiplayer. Unlike Halo, Call of Duyor numerous other popular multiplayer titles, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is about patience and observation. Each player is assigned a target and must sift through an arena of identical clones, searching for their mark. Higher ranked players can have up to four players tracking them and the key is not drawing attention to yourself. Running around and causing a ruckus will not only paint a target over your head but, should you get a kill, you will earn far fewer points compared to a stylish stealth kill. This is reinforced by the fact that it’s points, not the number of kills that matter and I regularly played games where the winner had two, three or even four kills fewer than some of the other players.

The most surprising part of Brotherhood is that the multiplayer not only works, but is hugely satisfying. However, it does have two issues which hold it back from greatness. The first is matchmaking. It can take up to six or seven minutes to find a game and start playing and even then, matches will often close up within the first minute of playing, booting everyone into their own lobbies. This is also a problem with party play and I have yet to have a smooth multiplayer session when playing with friends. The other issue is its levelling up mechanic. Progress through the multiplayer is slow but the rewards for each new level are great… too great. Regardless of skill, a level 1`player will rarely be able to touch someone in their 20’s. It’s going to turn off many from jumping in even a few weeks after the launch and is set to become a haunt of hardcore elites only. You have been warned. The game also implements leaderboards, attached to challenge rooms. If a number of people on your friends list have Brotherhood, then  expect to spend a long while trying to beat each others score in movement, combat and stealth challenges which do a great job of showing of the depth of the mechanics at the heart of franchise. Even if you’re a veteran of the series, I’d recommend trying these out as you’re guaranteed to learn tricks you didn’t know existed.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is a good game,  in fact it’s a great game, but it doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of imagination of its predecessor. It does make improvements to the formula, but I can’t help but feel a whiff of fatigue about the franchise. It’s also brought by a later sequence which is horrifically broken and will have more than a few players cursing at their televisions. I still love Assassin’s Creed, but as the credits rolled, I was left feeling deflated rather than the excitement I had become used to. Maybe it’s because AC:II was such a huge leap over the original, which in itself was a game like none before it, but riding through the contado of Rome, I couldn’t help the feeling of “been there, scaled that”.

This post originally appeared here

Vanquish Review

The Japanese games industry is dead. It can’t compete with the action games of the west and is sinking slowly into irrelevance… or something. Apparently someone forgot to tell Shinji Mikami however, as his studios latest game,Vanquish, plays like a breath of fresh air in an industry choked with cover based shooters. It’s still very much feels like a game created in Japan, but it feels good to say that in a complimentary way for a change.

On the face of it, Vanquish is a 3rd person, cover based shooter. However, while it’s certainly possible to play it Gears of War style, it really comes into its own once you learn to use the ARS suit effectively. From the beginning of the game until its conclusion, its abilities never change and not being ‘Metroided’ is a refreshing change.

The improvements of the suit come from a growing familiarity with it rather than from incremental upgrades. The ARS suit allows the player to slide on their knees across the battlefield, chaining it with bullet time at their leisure. It’s limited by a recharge meter with reckless use of the abilities forcing it into ‘cool down’, creating a risk-reward setup in how you use it.  The ARS suit is the star of the game, and is the main reason to try Vanquish as there really isn’t anything else quite like it. If, by the end of the game, you don’t have a big smile on your face as you slide under the legs of a giant robot, dispatching the smaller enemies as you go, before flipping around and entering bullet time as you pummel the titan in the back with heavy machine gun rounds, you may just be doing it wrong.

All the sliding around would be pointless if it didn’t come bundled with some impressive firepower. Thankfully the shooting feels solid, with headshots resulting in a satisfying explosion of metal and gears. It only takes an hour to see all of the weapons and it’s likely that most players will stick with their favourite three for the duration of the adventure. However, every arena comes packed with weapons crates and there’s no such thing as a rare find so mixing up weapon types is a simple affair at every stage of the game. However, there’s a strange imbalance in the upgrade mechanics in that picking up a weapon you have full ammo for goes toward upgrading it to the next level.

Essentially, you’re rewarded for not using the weapon you’re trying to upgrade and while it does encourage experimenting with different weapons, it also means that you may find yourself unwilling to use the rocket launcher in the hopes of upgrading your clip size. Dying also sets back the levels of the weapons you carry, but it doesn’t take long to get them back to full strength so it won’t hurt too much.

While Vanquish succeeds in providing some truly unique and spectacular firefights, the same cannot be said for the story.San Fransico has been wiped out by a space station overrun with Russians and it’s up to Sam Gideon and an invading American force to take it back and prevent another catastrophe. It features the usual suspects in the cast, including the gruff war vet and cackling villain and while it does sometimes engage, its main role is simply to give an excuse for a man in a viciously fast, white suit to take on an army of robots.

The Japaneseness of the game extends into the story with a ridiculous plot twist in the end game with the credits leaving the player even more confused than they were at the start. It’s also a little on the short side, clocking in at 7 or 8 hours. Completing each chapter unlocks horde mode style challenge maps, but they’re strictly single player so those of you hoping to slide around with a friend will be disappointed. The missions are also graded and beating the game allows you to play any of them at any time, perfect for achievement hunters or those lucking to push their name up the leaderboards. Undoubtedly many players will beat this in a weekend and never go back, but if you wish to stick with it, the God Harddifficulty mode and challenges will keep them engaged for some time longer.

Although ostensibly a cover based shooter, Vanquish has more in common with the Devil May Cry series or Platinum Games’ last title Bayonetta than Gears of War. By the end of the game, the status screen informed me that I had spent a little over 2% of the play time hiding behind a wall. It pushes the player to be aggressive and to look as cool as possible while doing so. The problem is, after getting used to playing at such a lightening pace, going back to other cover titles is like being forced to crawl after learning to run.

This post originally appeared here