Freedom Planet Review

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Freedom Planet

PC

Dev/Pub Galaxy Trail

 

After spending 3 million hours grinding up levels and crap items in Destiny, did you stop and think to yourself, “Why do I even play games at all? I haven’t been enjoying myself for days – this feels like a chore.”

When some little oik gives you a hard time about your K/D ratio on the latest dreadful military shooter, do you experience ennui of soul, ponder your life choices and consider jacking it all in to go and referee roller-derby matches?

Where are the thrills of yesteryear? Everything that was once new and shiny now seems old and decrepit; your gaming enthusiasm is sapped and needs a boost.

That’s presumably why people flock in their droves to pick up the latest franchise title, despite diminishing returns. Like a crack addict searching for a hit that will match the first one, they’re all addicted and desperate.

Not you though, dear reader. You’re above that kind of thing. You are, to paraphrase Uncle Monty, a sponge looking to suck up new experiences.

So with that said, let’s review something that looks like 16-bit throwback Sonic rip-off! Wooo-hoooo!

Aw, look, I’m only 3/4ths kidding. Freedom Planet does bear the trappings of a Megadrive or SNES classic title on the surface but is in fact one of the best slices of arcade platforming that I’ve played for a long time. To be clear, this isn’t a precision platformer in the style of MeatBoy, rather an exploration and adventure title (with a story!) Much more akin to the Hedgehog and Wonderboy games of this world.

Bold and striking in its graphical style, Freedom Planet is beautiful to look at and wonderfully smooth to play. You begin the game as Lilac, a purple dragon teenage girl who spends her time adventuring with best friend Carol – a green, motorcycle driving cat. They soon become embroiled in an adventure to save their world of Avalon from an interplanetary villain and the stupidity of the adult leaders who just won’t listen, damnit.

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During your quest, you’ll meet up with a friendly alien masquerading as a duck and a lost dog-girl who needs friendship, as well as an assortment of other animal themed NPCs. The writing is pitched just-so; in order to avoid what could have been unbearably saccharine characterisation. Sure, it’s cutesy, but Freedom Planet still manages to tell a competent story and actually make you want to take down Lord Brevon for reasons besides, ‘well, he’s on the right-hand side of the level, and that’s the way I’m going.’

According to the Wikipedia article, Freedom Planet began life as a Sonic the Hedgehog fan game and – in the nicest possible way – it shows. The common tropes are there, spin attacks, smashing robots to reveal creatures inside, tons of pick-ups etc. Most notably however, the game manages to capture the sense of speed that Sonic had at its best. You can careen through levels at a breakneck pace, avoiding many of the obstacles but also missing out on the goodies. When Lilac catches loops and really builds up speed, I was reminded of Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic 2, which was so fast it seemed almost impossible at the time. It’s a testament to the quality of the programming in both cases that I’m struggling to find decent examples since.

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Freedom Planet is a challenge without being impossibly difficult – if you just want to see all the levels and have some effortless fun, there’s an easy setting which is very forgiving – and is suitable for gamers of all abilities. However, really exploring all the games nooks and crannies is going to take a while. There are 3 playable characters eventually open to you, each of who has a distinctive play-style. Beating the game with all 3 is going to take some considerable time, since they can’t all take the same route – especially when it comes to battling the bosses at the end of each stage. I was surprised to what degree I was required to change up my tactics when tackling them with the different characters. It certainly stops the game becoming too repetitive. Having said that however, I found that I definitely had the best experience playing the game as Lilac and found the other two to be still fun but less so. This is probably due to the speed with which I had to get through the game for review however. Leave it a couple of weeks between playthroughs and you’ll probably have a better experience.

It’s heartening to see a game that has gone through Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight end up as such a resounding success. Now on Steam, it hasn’t come out in Early Access with excuses all cued up and promises of future content that may never materialise. Freedom Planet is an extremely well designed, developed and executed game that is -above all else – fantastically good fun to play.

I was always convinced we were supposed to be having fun. Thanks, Galaxy Trail, for making a game so good and so accessible as to remind us all.

 

Karlos Morale

Score 9/10

Freedom Planet is out now for PC (£10.99 on Steam)

Gauntlet Review

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PC

Dev. Arrowhead Game Studios / Pub. WB Games

We are one year away from the 30th Anniversary of the Gauntlet arcade machine. An enormous, throbbing beast decked out in primary colours and boasting four sets of joysticks and buttons. Playing the original arcade machine as a kid with friends was like reaching some sort of gaming nirvana as you jostled at the machine, laughing and screaming at each other as, “Yellow Wizard was about to die,” whilst, “Green Elf shot the food.”

Now in the super high-tech future, where everyone is constantly interconnected and the government have at least 8 cameras on you 24/7, you get the chance to relive those halcyon days of yore. Happily though, you don’t have to go to the trouble of leaving your house and going down to a stinking arcade full of foul-smelling teens; you can save that experience for gaming conventions instead.

New Gauntlet offers the player a hack-and-slash game that is definitely tuned to the mulitplayer experience. You can set up or drop into a lobby and play with friends or internet ‘randoms’. At this point I’d like to observe that the public games of Gauntlet I’ve played have been with some of the least-wankerish people I’ve ever met on-line. Countless times people have saved some gold for their team-mates or judged who needs life-restoring food the most before rushing in and snatching it up. I’m not sure what the deal is with that. Don’t blame me though if you end up playing with more selfish types – your mileage may vary.

G_SCaps_090714_CL_09After a pretty basic intro where you’re introduced to what the Gauntlet is (some mad Wizard’s challenge) and who the characters are, you’re dropped into the game proper. You may choose from four character types; Warrior, Valkyrie, Elf and Wizard. In the original game they were all ranged characters but with greater or lesser defence, melee strength and magic. In the new Gauntlet there is actually a significantly greater distance between the characters. The Warrior has no ranged attacks and he succeeds by kiting and then going all-out into the throngs of enemies. Valkyrie has a shield which she can use to block as well as a dash, enabling her to dance through tricky situations. Questor the Elf fires a couple of kinds of arrow and drops bombs and finally, there is the Wizard.

Merlin controls very differently from how you may expect if you’re at all familiar with the Gauntlet franchise. Firstly he has 9 attacks where most of the others have 3. Secondly, you select these attacks with a Magika style spell system. Double tap X and then aim with the right stick to unleash a frost beam, whilst double Y gives you the traditional fireball. B, then X gives you  a short range but powerful magic blast and so on. With these powers the Wizard can create shields, teleport in a blaze of flame and summon icy-doom shards amongst other things. In order to stop Wizard being crazily overpowered though, the control system is very awkward to use on the fly until you get used to it. Even with practice, selecting the right spell in the heat of the action can be extremely tricky – especially when casting a fireball when you meant to teleport can mean the difference between life and death. Unfortunately, this can mean a lack of effective 4-member teams, since many players don’t want to be the Wizard.

And that’s a problem because Gauntlet is a mulitplayer experience.

The fun of combining abilities and working with/competing against your team is where all of the fun is to be found in Gauntlet. Although you can tackle the game as a single player, it’s optimised for multiplay. Grinding through the dungeons by yourself is, unfortunately, quickly boring. The game is neither pretty enough, nor characterful enough to get away with its more tedious sections as a single player game. In fact, I would say that if you don’t plan to play on-line or with friends, Gauntlet is one to avoid. Its limited tile-sets quickly become monotonous, and after grinding out some gold to unlock a few special abilities, I found that I’d have lost interest in the game long before reaching the end – and it’s not an especially long title with just a 3 sub levels for 9 main sections and 3 boss fights. Those bosses, which are exciting encounters in multiplayer with the right amount of danger and reward, are tedious grind-fests in single player.
G_SCaps_090714_CL_12Juggling my positivity for the on-line experience with the single-player one is a difficult task. Gauntlet is a simple game should offer a simple pleasure with a pick-up and play style – but it doesn’t quite lend itself to that. In single player, the levels are too long, and your abilities too weak to really feel powerful and like you’re rampaging through your foes as you did in the original game. With the pacing feeling off and the combat and level design somewhat uninspired, Gauntlet is an underwhelming experience, even at its modest price point. However, throw 2 or 3 other characters into the mix and the game comes alive, delivering a much faster paced game where you compete – in different ways – with friend and foe alike. It’s both challenging and rewarding to go score chasing in the dungeons of Gauntlet.

As a couple of final notes, Gauntlet is designed for control pad play, although I found myself preferring mouse and keyboard for playing the Warrior at least, so it’s worth experimenting with both to see what suits you. Also, the game offers a ‘classic’ graphics mode, which just makes everything pixellated and crap looking. It lacks definition and so the game just ends up looking like a frenzy of angry smudges. Don’t bother with that – Gauntlet has always looked clean and cool. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Karlos Morale needs food… badly.

Karlos Morale

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Gauntlet is out now for PC – available on Steam for £14.99 HERE

Loadout Review

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Loadout Review | PC | Edge of Reality Ltd.

It had been a long time of not watching blockbuster action movies before I watched Sylvester Stallone in his 2008 Rambo film. Yawning, I ended up idly picking the film from Netflix in the certainty that I’d be turning it off again in 10 minutes time. The reason I didn’t, and actually went on to enjoy the film, was that it was gloriously and unrepentantly violent. Bullets took people off their feet, shredding them as they flew. Explosives caused people to become startling fountains of bloody viscera. It was unexpected and glorious.

It had been a long time of not playing arena shooters before I played Edge of Reality Ltd’s new title, Loadout. Yawning, I ended up idly picking the game from Steam in the certainty that I’d be turning it off again in 10 minutes time. The reason I didn’t, and actually went on to enjoy the game, was that it was so gloriously and unrepentantly violent. Bullets took people off their feet, shredding them as they flew. Explosives caused people to become startling fountains of bloody viscera. It was unexpected and glorious.

There are too few opportunities in gaming life to really embrace the ridiculous, despite the affordances of a media that can literally set anything, anywhere at any time. Too often, in my view, games try to be extensions of real life – when really, abandoning anything that ties the game to mundane existence would be preferable.

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Edge of Reality Ltd’s game has a lot of work to do in order to stand out in its field; a free-to-play 3rd person arena shooter, very much in the style of Team Fortress 2, Loadout could easily get lost in a sea of similar games.

Get shot too much in Loadout and you could end up headless – just a brain with two eyes glued to the front – but still alive. Or, you can find yourself running around with a chest cavity big enough to drive a bus through but still alive enough to grenade the unwary.

Loadout is at its most successful when it sticks one dying, bloody finger up at the conventions of gaming. The game hooked it from the very first spawn point. I noticed that I had been dropped in to a space occupied by green (friendly) and red (enemy) named characters. The seconds ticked down to game start and I went through the following thought processes:

1. Ugh. We’re all spawning together? That’s stupid.

2. Huh. We’re all spawning together.

3. Yeah! We’re all spawning together!

4. Double kill! I survived! I’ve only got one arm!

Dropping me into the game like that was brilliant and it set up the tone for what was to come, frantic, barely co-ordinated violence and its gooey repercussions.

Before you get to shooting action however, you have to choose your loadout – see, they didn’t just pick the name at random – as the game has a strong focus on you building a weapon (which in a stroke of genius, you get to name) to match your preferred play style, or role in your team. Any weapon can be modified to deliver arcing lightning death, burning fire or even healing if you’d enjoy being a medic. Additional upgrades are unlocked with ‘blutes’ which is a currency earned solely in-game and cannot be bought with microtransactions.

Uh oh.

Yeah, there’s that word again. Microtransactions. After the travesty that was Dungeon Keeper, this should be enough to send shivers down any gamers’ spine. Thankfully, Loadout manages to do it right and prove that it’s not that hard to monetise a game without pissing everyone off. Are you listening, Electronic Arts?

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First up, Spacebux – the currency you buy – cannot be used to buy anything that will give you a material advantage in-game. The upgrades are cosmetic only.  Edge of Reality made a smart choice by opening up the weapon systems, but really restricting the cosmetic options available to you in customising your character. At low levels, each team is filled with 4 or 5 versions of the same fat-Rambo with the occasional chunky lady thrown in. As you play the game, you’ll realise it’s quite possible to make pretty badass looking avatars, but unless you cough up some money to support the game, you’re going to be left with the couple of goofy looking options you had at the start. It actually reminded me of Brink’s character customisation which was a strong element of that title.

Secondly, Loadout is a great deal of fun to play. You make progression in terms of unlocking weapon upgrades etc. because it’s a title that lends itself to sitting down to play for an hour or two every day. You get daily play bonuses of blutes so you can always be working towards creating a new weapon to try. Games don’t tend to drag on and (so far) the online community is decent without people getting butthurt over defeats. So you tend to play and play some more – leading you to want to give something back to the developer who made this decent shooter.

It feels different enough to Team Fortress 2 to stand a chance of making a splash for itself in the arena shooter world. I hope that it makes it and I’ll be really interested to see how the game progresses from this point. Why not get in on the ground floor and give it a whirl? After all, at this price point, what have you got to lose?

Don’t push me.

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Karlos Morale

Loadout is available now for PC on Steam

http://www.loadout.com/game-info/