Category: Reviews

Review: Titanfall 2

This review is based on the Xbox One version of Titanfall 2.

One of the downsides of modern video games is missing out on great games due to an overwhelming flood of options: from a continual release of AAA titles to a tidal way of free-to-play & affordably priced mobile options, there are more quality options to choose from than ever before. Titanfall 2 suffered a particularly challenging release as part of an aggressive fall 2016 publishing strategy by Electronic Arts to challenge the dominant Call of Duty franchise by releasing both the Respawn developed shooter & Battlefield 1 closely together, resulting in an adverse impact on the futuristic shooter’s sales.

Fortunately, Titanfall 2 has a completely revamped story mode paired with a compelling multiplayer experience that still holds up over a year after release. Respawn has replaced the original concept of campaign as quick intro/outro voiceover on multiplayer maps with a full narrative paired with story mode specific levels & sequences comparable to Call of Duty or Battlefield. As pilot by necessity Jack Cooper, the sprawling levels are explored with sentient Titan BT-7274 as the upstart militia battles the assembled armies, level boss mercenaries & treacherous terrain to prevent annihilation. There is a massive game changing event that happens midway through the campaign which completely changes the perception of combat as well as exploration, a big risk by Respawn that upheaves the established design of the Titanfall series but successfully grabs the player’s attention with its creativity.

The multiplayer is a mixed bag, objectively good but subjectively strange compared to the innovative approach of the original game. Titanfall 2 abandons all of the titan frames from the original game for new classes that are restricted in their weapon choices, movement options & chargeable core abilities. The new designs are interesting, but the dramatic changes feel like a deliberate choice to mirror similar class structures in other modern shooters. Burn cards are gone & the presence of AI controlled units are dramatically reduced, focusing the combat more on pilot & titan matchups rather than the ongoing, changing areas of battle that the original game introduced. The silky smooth controls, fast reaction times & low latency servers carry over but the online experience overall is a slower, more deliberate version of the breakneck pace that made the original game unique.

My delayed start time with the game also afforded an opportunity to try it out with the Xbox One X, hardware that Titanfall 2 takes full advantage of with a resolution & texture upgrade that improves the visual fidelity to near high end PC quality. Load times were already quite fast online, but the campaign loads a lot faster & the multiplayer menus are slightly more responsive on Microsoft’s newest console.

There are newer & trendier options that have emerged since the release of Titanfall 2, but the sequel to Respawn’s debut title is not to be missed. It makes a concerted effort to build upon the unique but admittedly barebones structure of the previous game with a lot of attention to adding features & narrative. Some of the uniqueness of the experimental original game is lost in transition but the meaningful additions to narrative, weapons & titans form a worthy addition to the crowded first person shooter genre.

 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Review: Full Throttle Remastered

This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of Full Throttle Remastered.

There was a brief, glorious moment a few years ago when Sony invested in a large slate of indie games & PC remasters. Among this group of revitalized games was Tim Schafer’s LucasArts titles, including the cult classic Full Throttle with a fully revamped set of graphics and audio that brought tough as nails biker Ben into the HD era.

Diving into the world of biker gangs, Corley Motors, the scheming Adrian Ripburger and the overall world of Full Throttle for the first time is a disjointed but oddly captivating way to experience the game. The modern day presentation is paired with classic adventure game navigation, requiring a deliberate approach of carefully scrolling and prodding level elements to progress (and unlock rare trophies). Taking on leadership of the Polecat motorcycle gang, tough as nails Ben’s journey from ambushed biker to fugitive on the run and eventually combating Ripburger for justice and the biker way is a fun ride! The dialogue trees are worth exploring for in-jokes and sly references to biker culture, the exaggerated characters are campy without becoming annoying and the protagonists have a distinctly 90’s mix of earnestness and brash confidence. It’s fun to look at, poke, open and interact with every element to fully explore the world.

Full Throttle Remastered has fully redrawn graphics in the same style and fidelity as the Day of the Tentacle remaster, rather than the inferior upscaling used for the Grim Fandango port to console. The clean lines, thin inks and flat shading feel tonally consistent with the original 1995 version; there’s a toggle between classic and remastered graphics that show the stark contrast after 22 years. I recommend switching between versions at quiet moments to fully appreciate the effort and care that Double Fine invested in the new edition.

It sounds great as well, each voice imbuing their character with a distinct tone that I can still hear clearly in my head. Double Fine used the original master recordings of Roy Conrad, Mark Hamill, Kath Soucie and the rest of the cast to retain the original dialogue flavour while the various punching, motor revving, explosion and other sound effects pop without the bass heavy, exaggerated volume style of many modern era games.

The game struggles with some pain point sequences, I found it frustrating to figure out the rock/paper/scissors type system to weapon swap through an extended Road Warrior bike battle and land stunt jumps at a climactic car battle. I may be spoiled by modern systems with obvious visual hints to problem solve; the grind of determining the sequences and nailing the precise timing to pass those sequences nearly derailed me from finishing the game (but grinding through them was ultimately worthwhile).

Full Throttle Remastered is a fresh, vibrant version of a classic game that everyone should experience. Whether it’s a return visit to a beloved favourite or a new introduction to the world of Tim Schafer, spending a few hours with Ben, Maureen, Ripburger and company is time well spent.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Review: Super Mario Run

This review is based on the iPhone version of Super Mario Run.

Super Mario Run is Nintendo’s first big foray into gaming on mobile phones, bringing their most iconic character to iPhones (and eventually Android) with an endless runner version of their classic 2D platform series. After focusing their portable efforts on the 3DS during the majority of the modern smartphone era, the game is under an incredible amount of pressure to deliver a huge install base, substantial revenue and critical acclaim to an audience used to a fire hose of free and very cheap games on the go.

 

At first glance, the game does quite a good job in capturing the look of the Wii U era Mario platformers with the bulbous spherical body of our protagonist, bevelled coin blocks, warbling enemies and upbeat sound effects mostly intact in the transition. Many of the classic level types such as the grassy field, spooky mansion and floating battleships made the transition and look vibrant on the retina displays of modern iPhones. For a moment, I thought it might turn out well!

That feeling does not last. Where Super Mario Run shows signs of trouble is a few seconds into the first level when it becomes apparent that Mario may look the part, but he doesn’t move or react with anywhere close to the level of precision that long time gamers are expecting. Jumps feel delayed when tapping the screen and more intricate sequences with multiple chained jumps or activating a sprint out of a pause block have enough latency to mess up the player on more challenging levels. The inconsistent controls are exacerbated by the baffling decision to pause Mario mid-air for a split second when he earns a coin collecting (not an invincibility) star, often at the worst possible moment when attempting a precision jump between platforms or timing an extended float while descending. Switching from Mario to Toad, Yoshi or the other unlockable characters is even worse, as latency coping mechanisms that get picked up with experience using Mario do not translate exactly to the others with their differences in movement behaviour. This should have been an easy win for Nintendo but it is deflating in its imprecision and inconsistency.

The game is available in a limited free version with access to the 1st world, with the rest unlocked through a one-time purchase that is substantially higher than comparable App Store games (price will vary by country). The free access includes the basic Goomba and green shelled turtles with the more exotic creatures such as Lakitu locked away behind the pay wall. There isn’t enough in the free version to stick with Super Mario Run for more than half an hour; grinding out a small selection of levels with varying difficulties of special collectible coins or making runs through Toad Rally is only entertaining for a few attempts each.

The aforementioned Rally is decent when it matches you up with equally skilled players to make its ghost challenge mode a fair contest, but it usually provides a list of significantly better or worse player profiles to race against. The controversial consumable ticket experience becomes a non-factor quickly when you have earned enough coins to deploy coin blocks in your overview world between the various collectibles, but it takes a lot of coin and toad grinding to buy those pieces.

Even designed for mobile first, Super Mario Run keeps Nintendo’s archaic friend system of generating codes to be passed around instead of requiring a Nintendo account login up front, leveraging Apple’s Game Center or another centralized system. Why does this legacy system still exist in 2017?

The series has always been about far more than running around to collect coins and take out enemies: the sense of wonder in discovering beautiful new worlds, precision timing to navigate intricately designed levels and nostalgic fun of encountering familiar Koopas are barely present in this game. It feels disappointing in the way that the direct to video Disney sequels in the 1990’s were to fans of the iconic originals, it pains me that Super Mario Run looks and feels like a stripped down Super Mario Bros. 3 on rails. The game is a decent runner but a serious disappointment as a Mario title, a series that deserves more respect and reverence than this provides.

 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars