The Order: 1886 – Size and Length does matter!

Now that the dust has settled a bit, let’s have a one-way discussion about the PS4’s exclusive release that arrived this past February titled The Order: 1886.  This isn’t a review of Ready At Dawn’s ambitious, but ultimately flawed and failed attempt at making the equivalent of a cinematic gaming experience, but rather an editorial – and maybe a review – and a cautionary tale to those who would attempt to develop beyond their means.  This is a reminder of that old saying, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

First, let’s admit that if you paid full price for this hot mess then you have some incredibly huge cojones.  It’s not easy admitting you’ve purchased a “lemon”, especially when you’ve been told by the person who sold you that lemon to suck on it.  As you may have guessed, I paid full price for this interactive cinema.  A movie on wheels, or rails, so to speak.  The setting, themes, and idea of the whole game were enticing.  How could a Victorian era, Steampunk-centric, Action and Murder Mystery game taking place in a dark and dreary England showing off the height of the industrial revolution, steeped in conspiracy involving werewolf and vampire mythology, absolutely fail to deliver the goods on what could have been a truly epic gaming adventure?

Don’t you give me that look!

Let’s get the obvious out of the way people, The Order: 1886 is probably the shiniest turd ever created.  Gamers can argue about graphical fidelity all they want, but you simply cannot deny how good looking this game is.  For a console game, this puppy is better looking than the vast majority of PC games out there!  Oh yeah, I went there.  The premise and setup of the story isn’t bad either, and not a single character in the game is voiced badly.  The game is dripping, nay, oozing with atmosphere and detailed environments.  So why do I feel like I was promised a lap-dance only to discover my pocket had been swiftly picked?

This is probably going to confuse gamers that are aware of this title but have yet to play it, The Order: 1886 is one of those great games that never was.   All of the pieces are in place.  The cast, crew, set, props, and even the moody soundtrack are all there.  The problem has nothing to do with timing, lighting, make-up, or arrangement though.  It’s the interactive areas of the game that fall drastically short of well, interaction.  The on-rails nature of this cover-based corridor shooter, while spectacular looking, offers little in the way of meaningful action and player interactivity.  I have no problem playing highly scripted games, I’ve played and enjoyed many throughout my 35+ years (yes I’m pushing 40) of life.  I don’t mind sitting back and enjoying hefty cutscenes either, if the tone and setting are right.  The problem is that The Order: 1886 doesn’t give players enough actual gameplay.

It’s clear to me that Ready At Dawn, the development studio behind The Order: 1886, have worked hard at creating a highly stylized and detailed game world.  That world I’m talking about is one just begging to be explored in great detail, and while some of the background story can be uncovered through the discovery of news paper articles, missives between enigmatic figures, and audio logs, it always feels like there is something else missing.   The player can pick up a number of items throughout the game, giving them a detailed “once-over”, but you never actually get to use the majority of these items, they’re basically strewn about the environment to tease collectors and trophy hunters.  It’s a shame really, because the shear amount of detail that’s gone into picking up and looking at items ultimately becomes a pointless endeavour and a time waster, or filler.

Oh, it’s that thingamajig that connects to that doohickey and hooks up to the whatchamacallit on the thingamabob. I got this!

When you’re not simply roaming through the awe-inspiring environments and looking at items, or listening to dialogue between a couple of the main characters, you’ll occasionally engage in action sequences or the ever popular “quick-time” event.  I personally don’t mind quick-time events.  I think they have a place in gaming, and when used properly, they can turn a cutscene into an actual situation for the player.  The cutscenes are actually fine in The Order, the dilemma is that gameplay roughly falls into 3 catagories: Explore mode – simply run down corridor or street, Combat mode – fight off a predetermined number of enemies using cover-based shooting, Quick-time event mode – fight, subdue, or flee, mostly during boss battles or cutscenes.  None of these “action” sequences are particularly good or well made.  There simply isn’t enough good gameplay to go around.  Any interesting or intense situations are depleted by dull action and increasingly tedious battles.  Sadly, the gameplay involved is nowhere near the level or standard of the game world and its architecture or artistry.

This all makes The Order sound like a mediocre game, but it’s not.  It’s actually an ambitious game, with mediocre gameplay, and that’s both sad and unfortunate.  Considering how much work went into creating this detailed world, and how much money it must have cost to produce the entire game and then distribute and advertise it, you’d think that both the story and game length would deliver a moderate gaming experience.  The story isn’t bad, but I did notice a couple of unresolved plot holes that made me cock an eyebrow and question whether or not I missed something with the accompanying sound of “hrrrmmmm!?!?” in my head.  Having played through the full game twice, finding all of the collectables, and getting a Platinum Trophy for the game on my second playthru, I know for a fact that I didn’t miss anything, and that the actual story did indeed have a couple of plot holes.

I can accept plot holes though.  I’ve played about a few thousand games now, and even the ones I’d consider very good or great, have all had plot holes.  What I can’t accept is how short the game is and how little there is to do.  Unless you’re actively trying to aquire all of the trophies, there is no replay value in The Order.  I know that multiplayer modes have become something of a gimmick over the past decade, but I honestly believe that The Order could have benefited greatly with the inclusion of a co-operative mode, and even an online competitive multiplayer mode.  There are enough areas and levels that multiplayer would have complimented the gameplay nicely.  I sincerely believe that The Order could have delivered a multiplayer experience akin to something like Gears of War.  That would have been great, and I think the lack of these additions has proven to be a serious blow to The Order and indeed how well the game will sell and be received by gamers in the long run.

Oh, honey look… peasants!

Ready At Dawn has some serious problems to face in the foreseeable future.  I can’t see them adding an online multiplayer mode to the game as DLC or releasing a worthwhile expansion that includes the additional mode.  Instead I think they’re either banking, or rather hoping, that they’ll be able to make a better sequel to The Order, but given the grand misteps and mistakes that were made in releasing The Order as is, I think that the team behind the game should question where they want to take their next game, whether it’s a sequel or an all new excursion.

If you could use the judgement of a game in order to distinguish how much job security someone has (and in a way, you can), I’d say that the artists, programmers, sound designers, and technical engineers including testing and Q&A, all did their jobs and followed through.  I don’t however, think I could say the same for the creative director or design lead though.  Attempting to make a movie out of a game, or a game into a movie has been done before, and with better results.  The team lead or project leaders behind The Order had big dreams that fell mighty short.  It’s still tough to say whether or not it’s time for them to prepare their resume or not, only time will tell, but in the game industry time moves pretty quickly.

I really wanted to like The Order: 1886.  There are many things that I like about it.  The characters and story are both engaging and engrossing, but the gameplay… ack, the gameplay.  For all the production value that went into making the game, I definitely do not feel that I’ve received my dollar-to-gameplay value out of the game.  Even though it must have taken a hefty budget to produce The Order, it never should have hit store shelves for the costly amount of $59 dollars.  The price would have been far easier to swallow had it been sold for $39, or even better, $29 dollars.  Asking gamers to cough up this much cash for so little gameplay though, is both unreasonable and ridiculous.  A turd is just a turd, no matter how much spit, paint, or polish you give it.

Captain Forever Remix – *Early Access* Preview

For those who aren’t familiar with the series, the original Captain Forever was a browser based Action / Space Roguelike / Shooter.   The mechanics are quite unique and simple in that you start off with just a handful of components to build a small ship, almost like putting Lego or K’nex pieces together.   Once that’s done you set out into the stars, blasting away at enemies and other ships so that you can recover the wreckage and then use the additional components from your enemies ships in order to create a ship that’s even bigger and better.  It’s a top-down shooter for people who love shooters, and who love to build and create.

Captain Forever Remix retains these core mechanics and adds a humorous and cartoony story to the mix.  Additionally, Captain Forever Remix (CFR from here on) now has brighter, more colorful graphics, and a fun soundtrack to back up the gameplay.  There are also a handful of new “building blocks” to experiment and play with at your discretion.  The inclusion of extra features does a good job of maintaining what made the original Captain Forever so unique and so much fun without messing up the formula or design.  It’s still a unique game and is a lot of fun.

Captain Forever Remix (Early Access – Steam)

Even though CFR is still in Early Access, the game feels polished.  The controls are very much the same as they were in its predecessor.  Control your ship using the WASD or Arrow keys, shoot with the spacebar, and use the mouse to connect newly aquired ship components.  Speaking of which, your ship will mostly be made up of different colored (and different strength) blocks, but you’ll also need to utilize parts that act as thrusters and weapon blasters.  The combination and ways in which you attach these pieces together will have an immediate and sometimes humorous affect on how your ship controls and responds.  You can easily build a slow but hulking beast of a ship with a dozen or so forward-facing blasters, something that can bust through the hull of anything that steps in your way.  Or, you could create the most awkward, cumbersome, L-Shaped goofy ship that fires in all directions, but only flies in one.

The one thing I’m missing, now that CFR has made it’s way to Steam, is having some sort of controller support.  Even though the game controls fine with a mouse and keyboard, I really wanted to sit back and be able to play CFR with my controller, even if it meant having to use the mouse every-so-often in order to attach new ship components.  I think incorperating either full or partial, native controller support, would be fun without compromising the core mechanics too much.  Aside from the personal desire to be able to play the game with a controller, the controls in CFR are intuitive and responsive.  The game uses it’s own version of Newtonian space-y physics that take a little bit of getting used to at first, but fans of the classic Asteroids style gameplay will feel the familiarity between the two games.

Captain Forever (Original – Browser Based Game)

Captain Forever Remix is coming along quite nicely so far, but I was already a fan of the browser based game and it’s sequels because of it’s unique build and play mechanics.  Is CFR worth the monetary commitment during Early Access though?  That depends.  It’s worth it if you enjoy top-down 2D shooters, and like the sounds of a game in this genre with build-and-play mechanics.  The game is currently selling for $15 on Steam, and while that may or may not be expensive to some, it’s important to remember that it’s also the price of your average fully released indie game.

I think there’s enough of a game here so far, and I haven’t encountered any game breaking bugs (yet), but I also only recommend Early Access games be purchased by gamers who are extremely enthusiastic about the content going into a game they’re interested in, and if they are then willing to support the developer.  If you’re simply curious, then you can still try out the free browser-based flash game over at the original Captain Forever website.  If you’re still on the fence about buying the game while in Early Access (and this applies to all games in Early Access or EA), then be patient, add the game to your wishlist, watch for updates and follow development progress – all of which is easily done through your Steam game client.  You could also wait for a sale, that way you can still support the developer and keep realistic expecations in regards to game development.

Be sure to check out Captain Forever Remix on Steam for more information, development progress, and content updates!

Runestone Keeper (PC) – Review

developed by Blackfire Games

Runestone Keeper is a turn-based dungeon crawler roguelike with lite rpg components.  There have been a plethora of Roguelike and Rogue-lite games released over the past few years.  The question is, does Runestone Keeper offer enough to warrant a purchase?  After playing dozens of commercially released and freeware indie roguelikes during this recent resurgence, I think I can safely say that Runestone Keeper is worth your time and money, depending on what you’re looking for though.  If you enjoy dungeon crawling with a somewhat plain appearance and straightforward combat, and the term “casual gameplay” doesn’t turn you off, then you’ll find a lot to like about Runestone Keeper.  There isn’t much of a story, but what Runestone Keeper lacks in story, it more than makes up for in gameplay.

The gameplay reminds me a little bit of Desktop Dungeons without the puzzle elements and with a hint of tabletop board game.  In fact, it almost feels like a cross between a Rogelike meets Minesweeper.  That doesn’t mean that there’s no depth to the gameplay though.  It’s a more straight forward affair than something like Nethack or Mines of Moria, but Runestone Keeper does offer some great replay value with it’s randomly generated dungeons, diversity in monsters, an interesting combat system, simple but addictive qualities including an interesting mixture of exploration and loot discovery.  It’s all very easy to get into with an uncomplicated user interface that requires nothing more than simple pointing and clicking (no need for memorizing hotkeys or quick reference guides).

As simple as this all sounds, the challenge and difficulty level fall right into the roguelike catagory.  You’re still going to die a lot, and just when you think you’ve started to get the hang of things, the game will throw a series of new traps or monsters at you that can’t be dealt with at your current level.  Thankfully, in some cases, there’s the option to avoid combat.  The first thing you’ll need to do though is explore.  You’ll need to search each dungeon floor if you plan on making it deeper into the dungeon because most levels are blocked by a locked door that requires a key to open, and most keys are guarded by monsters.  The only way to aquire these keys is by defeating certain monsters.  Unfortunately, you never know which monster is actually carrying the key.

By clicking away at the grid based / tile based levels, you’ll uncover areas of the dungeon the were previously unrevealed.  Every time you click you’re taking a risk because you never know when you’re going to stumble upon a monster or a trap.  Along the way though, you’ll find scrolls that provide useful tips for dungeon exploration and monster extermination.  You’ll also encounter friendly denizens that are more than willing to help you out by providing useful items, if you have the coin to pay for their products.  Randomly discovered weapons and items are also quite useful as they can contribute to your strengh, mana, spellpower, or perhaps give passive abilities that allow the player to discover areas of the dungeon without fear of setting off traps.

As mentioned earlier, you’re going to die a lot.  This isn’t such a bad thing since you’ll sometimes be able to relocate the remains of your previous adventurer which will increase your health and enhance certain attributes.  Completing goals and exploring deeper and deeper into the dungeon will also grant you extra coin when you die.  This becomes useful because it allows the player to do things such as unlocking an upgrade or item shop back at the world hub / dungeon entrance.  With repeated gameplay, you can greatly increase the strength of your adventurer.  As a bonus, you’ll also unlock new characters that offer unique skillsets or bonuses which will enhance and alter the way the game can be played.

The graphics and sound, both music and effects, are simple.  They aren’t exactly impressive, but they certainly do get the job done.  It’s hard trying to avoid the word simple when describing Runestone Keeper, but I also find it difficult to express just how much depth and high replay value is contained within.  You could easily mistake the casual style for a game that was easy, but don’t let its looks fool you.  It is challenging but fun, and anyone who enjoys roguelikes or rpg’s will find something enjoyable and entertaining.  Runestone Keeper also allows gamers to compete with other gamers by attempting to reach the top of the leaderboards.  I found this a little difficult however considering how insanely high some of the scores are.  Still, it gives the more tenacious gamers something to strive for, while the more casual gamers will be happy to loot dead monsters and unlock some of the interesting achievements.  Speaking of which, there are over 60 achievements and some of them will require extensive play to obtain.

The game has it’s own charm, and I found the play mechanics addictive enough to keep me coming back for more.  I’ve tried emphasizing how the game looks and feels like a casual experience, but there is a certain amount of depth and breadth to it that gives it a board game feel.  This is the type of roguelike that can be played in short bursts or brief periods of time, but you could also find yourself playing for hours and being consumed by the addictive nature of its gameplay.  It doesn’t really do anything new or exciting and that we haven’t seen before, but It’s also not like your typical roguelike or RPG that you’ll find on PC.  As long as you keep that in mind and approach it with reasonable expectations, Runestone Keeper is the type of game that can keep you coming back to it’s dungeons quite often.

Runestone Keeper is available for both PC and Mac and can be bought on Steam or purchased through the Humble Store for the low price of $9.99 US.

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Rack N Ruin coming to PS4 tomorrow (March 31st) on PSN!

Care for a bit of carnage and destruction?  Rack N Ruin has got you covered this March 31st (tomorrow), when it lands on PSN for the PS4!  This top-down action adventure let’s you play as Rack, a petite but powerful demon wizard with a talent for destroying entire worlds with the flick of his wrist or the snap of his fingers.  As a champion of the demon lord, he serves Ruin, his dark master.  Rack would destroy everything and everyone in his way rather than conquer and enslave the pitiful creatures he encounters.  This upsets Ruin, who would rather rule over the weak and helpless beings of the universe.  Finally, for not heeding his master’s wishes, Rack is banished teleported to the last living, peaceful world in the universe.  Drained of most of his destructive power, Rack is instructed to conquer this world for his master or perish along the way.  Rack on the other hand, has a different set of plans.

Rack N Ruin is a top-down action hack n slash adventure similar to Diablo, Deathspank, and perhaps the old Dungeon Explorer games (remember the Turbo Grfx 16?  What… No?).  Instead of being content to simply create another hack ‘n’ slash game though, the developers of Rack N Ruin, indie development studio LifeSpark, have decided to incorporate a healthy dose of bullet-hell style gameplay with magic and mayhem filling the screen at times.  The enemies are plentiful and the boss battles difficult, but Rack is able to wield powerful spells and artifacts he discovers throughout his quest.  Exploration is easy and discovering newer, more powerful items is always fun.  Even with it’s dark, rich atmosphere, Rack N Ruin is quite colorful and is suitably cartooney adventure for all ages.  The graphical style suits the setting and the gameplay very well.  Best of all, this PSN title for the PS4 boasts a 10 hour campaign that will surely satiate your hunger for action / hack ‘n slash with somewhat unique bullet hell mechanics and frantic battles.Be sure to check out the Playstation Blog for additional info and updates regarding the impending release of Rack N Ruin on March 31st!  You can also follow the Rack N Ruin twitter feed for frequent updates.

TyranoBuilder Visual Novel Studio – out now!

If you’re a fan of visual novel’s and if you’ve ever wanted to make a visual novel, then now is the perfect time to get started.  TyranoBuilder is a powerful but easy to use visual novel builder.  In fact, I was very surprised at how easy it is to get started on a project.  The visual editor uses a fairly comprehensive ‘WYSIWYG’ style toolset.  Even an amateur wannabe developer could whip up a short set of story scenes in minutes.  This is by far one of the most user friendly development tools I’ve played around with and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a plethora of new Visual Novels pop up on gaming sites simply because this software is so user-friendly.  It also allows experienced users to do their own scripting using the built in TyranoScript so that developers can create more advanced style novels.  On top of providing a streamlined set of tools and an easy to use editor, TyranoBuilder provides multi-platform development of Visual Novels for Windows / MacOS / iOS / Android / HTML5 / CSS3, right out of the box!  Last but not least, and one of my favorite aspects of TyranoBuilder, is that it there is no License fee and there are no royalty fees of any kind!  If the above doesn’t impress you then you might be surprised that for all of the above you can get TyrandoBuilder on Steam for a very low price of only $14.99!!

TyranoBuilder Visual Novel Studio Features:

“★ Easy & fast to Use! ★
No programming knowledge required! Fire up and start creating games immediately with TyranoBuilder’s simple and intuitive drag & drop interface!

★ Multi-platform! ★
Create games on Windows or Mac, and export for Windows, iOS*, Android*, smartphones and tablets, or browsers!

*iOS and Android require conversion using free third party software. See the TyranoBuilder Tutorial for details.

★ Fully featured! ★
Easily add scenes, characters, dialogue, story branches, music, movies and more!

★ Powerful! Flexible! ★
Customize every aspect of your game with the included TyranoScript scripting language!

★ Outstanding Value! ★
Create and sell your own visual novels for only $14.99! Requires NO license fees or royalties of any kind! “

As I said above, if you’re into visual novels, or if you’ve ever wanted to create a visual novel, then there’s no better time to get involved.  Although TyranoBuilder is heavily geared toward creating Anime style Visual Novels it is not limited to just Anime, you could create a visual novel in any style that your imagination can conjure up.  I highly recommend this simple but effective piece of development software for both amateurs and experts!  If any of this interests you then do yourself a favor and head over to Steam to check out the TyranoBuilder Visual Novel Studio.

Kill the good guys and fry helpless chickens in Nekro!

Fans of Diablo-esque, Dungeon Keeper-esque, and Myth: The Fallen Lords-esque style games might be interested in checking out Nekro, which is available through Steam’s Early Access program.  Nekro has a dark tone and setting, but it also has it’s own dark sense of humor.  The gameplay is more about having fun and less about taking things seriously.  Players get to be the villain for a change, causing wanton violence, carnage, and destruction, all while summoning demons and gathering blood in order to increase and replenish your power.

When originally released as part of Early Access, Nekro had a nice bite-sized bit of gameplay that gave gamers a taste of what’s in store.  The good news is Nekro has also received a rather large update which includes a number of extra goodies such as new levels, an additional boss, extra content, and additional tweaks and balancing to the gameplay.  I hadn’t played Nekro since it was first released on Early Access, but after spending some time with the updated version, I’m pleased to see that the gameplay has been tightened and improved, the interface has been updated, and the rest of the game is coming together nicely.

What is Nekro:

  • Upgradable Nekromancers: Choose between powerful Nekro specializations!
  • Customizable Summons: Customize minions and create the perfect demonic army!
  • Unlockable Skills: Harvest corpses to strengthen your unholy followers!
  • Trinkets: Equip powerful items to truly specialize your Nekro!
  • Levels to Explore and Dominate:Watch as limbs snap, blood permanently stains the battlefield and bodies explode with Nekro’s unique Chaos System!
  • Original Soundtrack: Over 20 blood-pumping music tracks!

What you’ll find in the most recent update:

  • 2 New Levels: Fight against waves of enemies in the Bootcamp Holdout to call forth the fearsome General Tso – Nekro’s first true multi-stage boss.
    This is one of the hardest fights in the game. You’ll have to use skill, cunning and chicken to win! These new levels can be found after the High Priest of Katheros level.
  • New Enemy – The Templar: Replacing the Townie is this upper level melee unit the Templar. He has huge range as well as a massive health pool. He stun locks targets in close range so it’s advised to not take him in melee combat.
  • New Boss – General Tso: This massive enemy wields an even more massive sword. Despite him being a melee unit, this enemy has such long range he can hit a target from half way across the map. Dealing enough damage to him in a row will snap his sword in two, cutting his damage and his range in half!
  • New Trap – Spike Pit: The spike pit is a touch-based trap that deals huge damage. It’s very easy to avoid, but don’t get knocked into it!
  • New Trap – Training Dummy: Use a Scourge on this trap to activate the trap, causing it to smash any unit around it. Though it deals only medium damage, this trap is great for zone control and combos nicely with the Spike Pit Trap.
  • New Environmental Hazard – Cactus: Easy to avoid, but don’t stand too close or you’ll get a butt full of spines.
  • New Control Scheme – Left Click to Move: Diablo fans will find this control set up very familiar as it utilizes click-and-hold mechanics to move your Nekro, no longer requiring the keyboard to move. Find this setting in the Gameplay tab of the options menu.
  • New Music: We have 3 new music tracks each almost 10 minutes long!! They are themed to metal bands like Dragonforce and Wolf and have 8-bit breakdowns inspired by games like Megaman, so be sure to turn up the volume!

If you’re a fan of top-down isometric Action, RPG, and Strategy type games then be sure to check out Nekro over on it’s Steam Early Access page.