Month: August 2013

Super Meat Boy

S

Jump, dodge and platform your way to your girlfriend’s rescue.

PC Release: October 20, 2010

By Ian Coppock

Occasionally I find a video game of such outrageous properties that I promptly have to share it with everyone. This is true in the sense of bad games, like Brink and Binary Domain, but it’s also true of games that accomplish one trait or thing with impressive acumen. In today’s case, said trait and/or thing is exceptional platforming, in the game and/or good-natured swearfest Super Meat Boy.

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 Super Meat Boy‘s titular character is a cutesy little creature that is indeed made of meat. I often refer to Meat Boy as PG-13 Kirby because of the character’s tentative cuteness and the game’s dark, albeit comical outlook. The game is a side-scrolling platformer.

The game explains that Meat Boy and his loving girlfriend, Bandage Girl, are a match made in heaven. Seems so, until the evil Dr. Fetus beats the crap out of Meat Boy and spirits Bandage Girl away. No one likes Dr. Fetus, so he intends to make everyone else’s lives a living hell.

S1

Woah! What the hell, dude? Leave Bandage Girl alone!

If you’re sensing that Super Meat Boy is a throwback to old-school platformers, you’re absolutely correct. Protagonist A must navigate levels B1-B1000 to retrieve significant other/favorite food item C.

Meat Boy gets himself together and chases Dr. Fetus across 6 chapters of platforming. The story is largely explained by cutscenes, in which body language rather than talking is the means of communication.

The game's cutscenes are short and sweet, with no spoken dialogue.

The game’s cutscenes are short and sweet, with no spoken dialogue.

The plot is a chapter-for-chapter rehash of showdowns and attempted rescues. The cutscenes feature a black comedy motif, and most of Meat Boy and Dr. Fetus’s antics made me laugh out loud. There’s little to no other extrapolation to be done here, and though the story isn’t super-strong, the quality the game pulls off exceptionally well is platforming. I’m willing to make an exception for games that do something, even if it’s not story, exceptionally well, like I did with Minecraft for its building mechanics. The true star in Meat Boy is the platforming. The story, while not bad, takes a bit of a second seat to this.

Like I said, Super Meat Boy is divided into six main chapters, with numerous bonus levels. In each chapter’s 20 or so levels, Meat Boy must hop and dodge his way to Bandage Girl, being held hostage at the end. Most levels take about ten seconds to do, but don’t worry; there’s tons of them, and the difficulty ramps up.

GAAAAAAAH!!

GAAAAAAAH!!

Meat Boy is fast, and he can also bounce off walls and jump pretty far. All of this, combined with painfully precise timing, is necessary to complete the chapters ahead. Though the game’s traps are merciless, Super Meat Boy respawns your character instantly after death, which is great, because I think long loading times in a high-pressure environment would cause me to lose my patience.

The game also features a creative way to remember your screwups. Being made of meat, Meat Boy leaves a trail of blood wherever he goes. The blood remains even 300 tries later, until you beat the level. It’s handy for remembering what not to do, and serves as a grim reminder of your failures.

Oh goody, moar blood. Now I can remember where I perished horribly.

Oh goody, moar blood. Now I can remember where I perished horribly.

Super Meat Boy is the best platformer I’ve ever played. It’s difficult as hell; in fact, this is the hardest video game I’ve ever played in my life. But though the difficulty ramps up rapidly, Super Meat Boy does platforming so well that the difficulty is purely intended, and not a consequence of  bad design. The controls are smooth and intuitive on both a console and a PC, and Meat Boy reacts to them immediately, giving you more control over timing and movements. The game’s framerate is also silky smooth; the developers left absolutely nothing to chance. The only thing guiding or hampering Meat Boy is your own skill. Well, that and the buzz saws.

The game is riddled with secret levels and collectibles. Meat Boy can collect bandages hidden in most levels, and access warp gates leading to old-style 8-bit levels that are exceptionally difficult. Meat Boy can also visit Teh Internets, a composite of fan-made maps and challenges. Some of these are even more difficult than the base game.

S2

Oh mother of God…

Super Meat Boy‘s artwork is detailed and colorful, combining the motifs of the old platforms with super-slick animations. Super Meat Boy‘s sound effects and cutscenes are deliberate throwbacks as well. The cutscene confrontations and battles are made with super-static-y sound effects, and some of them are pixelated. There’s one battle scene that I’m sure was a shoutout to Pokemon battles from back in the day, though Pokemon isn’t a platformer. The music is a curious blend of synth and drum overlays with heavy guitar, probably to go along with the visual element of buzz saws and other traps.

The animations are either tongue-in-cheek or outrageous. There’s a lot to be said for body language in this game, and the animations also make humorous use of awkward pauses and confusing situations between Meat Boy and Dr. Fetus. As characters, they adhere to the purely visual in terms of expression, but the animators succeeded in giving them firm if uncomplicated characters via this method.

The artwork in this game has a sort of dark cuteness to it.

The artwork in this game has a sort of dark cuteness to it.

I urge you to consider Super Meat Boy, if you’re at all into platformers. This game is, in my opinion, a great platformer, and it’s one of my favorite arcade games. Don’t be ashamed if you can’t beat it; I beat the final level after about 320 tries, and by then the routine was (and still is) ingrained in my muscles. The game is great because it collects the best elements of the old-school platformers and presents them in a format that fans new (such as myself) and old can enjoy. Go get her, hero!

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You can buy Super Meat Boy here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Dead Space

D3

Escape a derelict space vessel teeming with undead creatures.

PC Release: October 14, 2008

By Ian Coppock

My introduction to horror gaming was not dissimilar to most people’s, I would think. Trembling in fear, too scared to push that control stick forward, or backing off the couch entirely but hanging in the doorway to watch your roommate go on, because you’re still interested. Before Amnesia and the denizens of Short Horror Week, Dead Space was my introduction to the concept of fear and terror in a video game. It wasn’t a bad starting point, and I intend to demonstrate that in this review.

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Dead Space‘s futuristic setting means that the game can appeal to adventurous nerds as well as horror fans. I started the game on a cold October evening and assumed the role of Isaac Clarke, a 26th-century spaceship engineer, en route to a gigantic mining vessel putting out a weak distress call.

After the landing gear loses its s—, Isaac and his team find themselves in a vast hangar, with no one to greet them. The group is soon attacked by snorting, slashing creatures resembling cadavers with scythes for arms.

OOHHH! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING????

OOHHH! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING????

It’s at this point in Dead Space that things take an interesting twist. With no guns or gun experience, Isaac picks up the nearest cutting tool and starts hacking away at the monstrosities. Players must rely on Isaac’s skills as an engineer to build and modify tools into killing machines. This immediately made the game more than a zombie shootfest.

The game threw a second punch my way when I set to carving the nearest space-zombie to ribbons- only for them to keep coming after direct shots in the heart. Awesomely, disgustingly, the creatures can only be killed by dismemberment. Isaac has to shoot, cut, and tear the limbs off of the creatures in order to subdue them.

DS3

Oh man… ohhhhh man, that’s gross… but kind of awesome.

With the shuttle shithoused and communications out, Isaac and his few non-butchered teammates must find another way out. Even if there weren’t hundreds of snarly, hungry mutants to worry about, the Ishimura is falling apart. To make matters worse, Isaac’s two surviving chums don’t trust each other, each thinking that the other knows more about the disaster than they’re letting on. Naturally, the player is supposed to wonder at this divide, and boy did I.

With great trepidation, I descended into the dark bowels of the Ishimura. Isaac’s skill with cutting tools and his engineering know-how made him the obvious choice to traverse the giant ship, fixing systems and destroying monsters. Fixing machinery takes the form of puzzles, none of which are too taxing. I learned that the creatures plaguing the ship are called Necromorphs, but their origins are tied up in the deaths of the crew and the vessel’s current state.

D

The state of the ship and its crew raised an obvious question: what the hell happened here?

As Isaac hurries about the ship fixing everything from engine rockets to oxygen tanks, he begins to unravel the great, bloody mystery. Dead Space takes a Valve-esque approach in that it shows rather than tells, with wall graffiti and vague crew logs from which I, the player, was to infer much of the information. As the game progresses, though, your teammates start presenting you with more concrete findings.

Isaac is also hounded by more sinister antagonists, including deranged survivors and a massive Necromorph that hunts him throughout the ship. Bosses and minibosses create further complications in what are supposed to be simple repairs, and when Isaac discovers a mysterious artifact in the cargo hold, he begins to have second thoughts about his mission.

D1

So, the question must be asked, is Dead Space scary? The answer is yes*. The asterisk denotes a footnote, and in that footnote I intend to document a few issues, looking at the game from the prospective of a psychotic horror fan.

The first problem I saw after revisiting the game was an absolute lack of pacing. Isaac is beset by screaming hordes of Necromorphs from the very beginning, dashing a chance to let fear simmer up for a while. In Amnesia I didn’t see a monster for almost an hour, but by that point I was so terrified that I nearly wet myself upon seeing it. Dead Space‘s initial monster attack is certainly startling, but not disarming as with games that build up their atmospheres. The monsters pull the same tricks, like playing dead, over and over to the point where you’ll be able to see one faking it within the first hour of play.

Ambushes are unpleasant but their telltale signs become wearily predictable.

Ambushes are unpleasant but their telltale signs become wearily predictable.

The absolute biggest problem I have with Isaac, and information I’ve been deliberately withholding until now, is that he is a silent protagonist. Kind of surprising, right? You’d think designers wouldn’t miss a more obvious opportunity to project fear and terror than through the player character. Aside from a few grunts, Isaac gives no reactions or emotions in response to the trauma he endures, which is a shame. Yeah, the total silence makes the atmosphere murkier, but more could have been done with emoting. The only perspective we get on this guy is the over-the-shoulder camera.

It gets better; Isaac’s girlfriend Nicole is a medical officer aboard the ship, and he searches for her during missions. In that vacuous personality could have existed potential for conflict with the other teammates over mission priorities, or little side missions investigating clues. I learned that Nicole was on the ship but Isaac’s silence caused me to forget it for much of the game. Wasted chance, Visceral.

The lack of emotional response to monsters and situations was frustrating. I guess Isaac could have balls of adamantium though.

The lack of emotional response to monsters and situations was frustrating. I guess Isaac could have balls of adamantium though, rather than just titanium.

Gameplay in Dead Space is manageable. It’s fine. It’s alright. Isaac trudges through the ship as if he’s deep-sea diving, but can run and apply medkits on the fly when the need arises.

The game shakes things up with cool zero-G sections in which Isaac must hop from surface to surface. You also occasionally get to pilot a few machines, including space turrets. Neato.

D1

High score!

Though Dead Space suffers narrative and pacing pitfalls, the game achieves additional eeriness through its artwork and atmosphere. The Ishimura is a cold metal thing, floating adrift in space, and this is made extremely evident in the environments. Scariness can be achieved through effective level design, and I found this to be true as Isaac crept through claustrophobic corridors and cramped holds. Many of the ship’s areas have suffered a blackout, forcing players to rely on Isaac’s flashlight and their own reflexes to survive.

As Isaac goes deeper, the signs of disaster become more evident. Certain parts of the ship are coated with a slimy residue, and others tell whispers of a story through blocked-off doors, toppled furniture and scattered gore. The hospital wing in particular is not for the faint of heart.

D2

A prenatal clinic, huh? Guess Visceral is playing hardball after all.

Dead Space‘s score was composed by Jason Graves. Get it? But seriously, that’s his real last name. Graves did better with the unsettling atmospheric music, which mostly comprised monotonous human voices giving a steadily building “eeeeeeeeee”. Violins throw porcupine quills at you most times a monster shows up, especially at the beginning. A lot of the game is left in silence, with only distant creaks and crashes to keep Isaac company. Also scratchy vents and not-so-distant creaks and crashes.

The atmosphere remains clingy, like a corpse in rigor mortis. It’s occasionally marred by pacing and narrative problems, but Isaac’s quest remains haunting. In a way, the pacing issue could be seen as a plus, helping prospective horror fans make an easier transfer from more common shooter and action games. See? I’m not so proud that I’m a horror purist. CTHULHU REIGNS! (ahem).

Even five years later, Dead Space's graphics remain competitive. The lighting and shadowing is also quite dynamic.

Even five years later, Dead Space’s graphics remain competitive. The lighting and shadowing is also quite dynamic.

For those of you who do tend to side with the pure horror, you may not find Dead Space to be super-scary, but it’s certainly worth your time. I personally think it’s also the scariest of the Dead Space series, but that’s a conversation for another time, another review.

I said up top that Dead Space is a good starting place for budding horror fans, and I stand by that. Unlike in many other horror games, Isaac can defend himself, and the game welcomes a lot of crossover from shooter, action and even puzzle games. As an engineer, Isaac must employ many different skills in order to survive on the Ishimura, so anyone with some gaming experience shouldn’t have too much trouble. But, being a horror game, Dead Space has a lot of unsettling content, including but not limited to blood, gore, dismemberment, dead babies, and insane survivors conducting rituals. You have been warned.

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You can buy Dead Space here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

B

Get the girl and save the world in this retro-style cyborg shooter.

PC Release: May 1, 2013

By Ian Coppock

I find myself in the unusual position of having played a standalone DLC before the main game from which it sprung. This was a conscious choice on my part, partially because it made me feel special, and also to give Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon truly standalone perspective, without any prior experience from Far Cry 3 to distort my opinion. The tables have turned on my future review of Far Cry 3, but Blood Dragon is nothing like the main game. If you bore witness to the Raw Deal, Crime Zone and Terminator era that was the 80’s, or want a chance to see what all the olduns look back on with fondness (or disgust), Blood Dragon is for you. Inspired by those and other 80’s films, this neon and synths-laden shooter is an unashamed shoutout to that era, one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

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80s media have extremely high expectations for what we’ve accomplished by the 2000s, and Blood Dragon is no exception. The game is set in 2007, in a grim world fueled by cybernetics and advanced robotics. After learning that his mentor Colonel Sloan has gone rogue, player character and cyborg kickass Rex Power Colt is dispatched to an unnamed island. He’s accompanied by his astonishingly stereotypical black sidekick (wow, didn’t I already use that line this week?), named Spider.

Rex confirms that Sloan has indeed lost his marbles, and must navigate an eerie, neon-laden island rife with cybernetic soldiers and animals. He teams up with the lovely Dr. Darling, one of Sloan’s scientists. She helps him by analyzing the island’s many dangers.

A1

Rex Power Colt is the ultimate badass, shooting and stabbing his way across a large island.

It doesn’t take long for Rex to run into the titular blood dragons, massive creatures that feed on cybernetic flesh. Though possible to kill, I employed the game’s far-reaching stealth abilities in avoiding them. Luckily they can’t see, but they do respond to sounds. And by respond, I mean scream, bite and maim.

In true 80’s fashion, Rex employs an arsenal of signature phrases. Each time I killed a round of cyborgs by ripping their hearts out, he’d say “time to put your heart into it,” or “it looks like the heart of the matter”. Shooting and sneak attacks will garner such assuredly timeless lines as “he was dead tired”, and “I call shotgun. hehehe”.

For any true badass, efficiency isn't enough. Rex employs catch phrases and so-bad-it's-good one-liners most every kill.

For any true hero, efficiency isn’t enough. Rex employs catch phrases and so-bad-it’s-good one-liners most every kill.

Guided by Dr. Darling, Rex shoots, stabs and explodes his way across Sloan’s island, fulfilling numerous objectives in order to take him down. All of these usually ended in a spectacle. 10% of the time it was something other than an explosion. The game is also full of some tongue-in-cheek references to 80’s geekdom. Rex can throw a Dungeons & Dragons 20-sided die to distract guards, and the game itself refers to scientists as Nerds.

Blood Dragon also aims to make itself more ridiculous as the game goes on. You encounter the standard ascending hierarchy of enemies, but even the island’s native fauna, including tigers, sharks and crocodiles, have become cyborgs. You also encounter zombies, referred to in-game as “the running dead”.

BD5

The game is sheer madness.

Despite having all of the hallmarks of a really cliche plot, Blood Dragon gets away with all of it because it’s fully aware of how ridiculous it is. Rex makes nuanced references to the cliches and obstacles he encounters, but these ironic observations make the game as much a dark comedy as an action shooter. The game makes it obvious that plot points that go unexplained have been left so deliberately, and then called my attention to that with a running gag or a subtle one-liner from Rex.

In addition to self-referencing its many plot holes, and then marking them with humor or a cliche, Blood Dragon’s plot is surprisingly engrossing because of the fun it pokes at 80’s action and stereotypes. Dr. Darling is the damsel in distress, Sloan is the mentor who’s gone mad, and Spider is the black sidekick who speaks of Rex in near-reverential tones. The game gives an I-don’t-care-how-many-explosions style of storytelling rather than minute attention to plot points. Because it is achieving these shortfalls deliberately, all the while never taking itself too seriously, Blood Dragon operates on a near-hipster level of irony, which makes the game more entertaining.

Games that are bad are just bad. Games that are deliberately bad to make a point or provoke laughter can turn out to be really good.

Games that are bad are just bad. Games that are deliberately bad to make a point or provoke laughter can turn out to be good.

Blood Dragon has some of the smoothest first-person shooter gameplay I’ve seen in a long time. As a cyborg, you can jog across the island and take massive falls no problem. The game balances stealth and shooting quite well; Rex can alternate between shooting up a base with a shotgun, or rapidly stabbing a succession of unsuspecting guards. As a stealth fanatic, I found the latter tactic a refreshing addition to a genre overladen with screaming gunfights.

You can use a variety of tactics to play how you want. Rex can distract guards with the dice, plant explosives, creep between walls, or just shoot his way to an objective. I employed a colorful mixture of all of these things that got me through the game alright. These tactics make me excited for when I get around to the main Far Cry 3 game.

BD8

Electric bow. ‘Nuff said.

To my great joy, Blood Dragon hearkens to more than just 80s movies. The game’s menus and cutscenes are 80s-style in their presentation. I knew this was going to be interesting when I opened the game and found myself staring at a menu not too different than those of the old arcade games I used to play. The cinematics are usually short, but they’re similarly old-fashioned in their animations and presentation.

The actual game’s graphics are detailed and pretty, much like, I would assume, the full Far Cry 3 game. The island’s dark theme is made evident with purple and black hues. The island is overcast with crimson clouds dotted with searchlights, and the various facilities are blueish with lines of neon. The outdoor environments are accompanied by no music, just the slight robotic whirs of the island’s cybernetic animals.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Neon and explosions.

The score is just as 80’s as everything else about this game. Lots of overlaying synths and great whooshing drums, often played at a fast pace to hurry the player along through a bunker of cyborgs or in search of a nerd needing rescue. The voice acting is deliberately overdone to provide a greater sense of place and comparison to 80s action film. Altogether, it’s effective at provoking laughs and even some sense of epic-ness.

Blood Dragon‘s gameplay is fairly straightforward, making it friendlier to first-time first-person shooters. The game is $15 on Steam. I finished the main story in about five hours, but there’s probably at least 5-10 more hours’ worth of side missions and exploration across the island. If you want to immerse yourself in a tribute to perhaps the most notorious 80s-dom in America, or if you just want to pull off some sneak attacks and wrestle a crocodile, you might consider Blood Dragon. As I said up top, the game is a complete standalone, and does not require the actual Far Cry 3 game in order to play.

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You can buy Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Binary Domain

B

Investigate attacks by robots disguising themselves as human beings.

PC Release: April 27, 2012

By Ian Coppock

I am mystified by Sega games, I just don’t get them. It’s a topic I can’t not broach after playing Binary Domain, because from my perspective, this game was overstuffed with bad design choices. It doesn’t help that it only sold 20,000 copies in the entire western world. It’s also no mystery that Sega isn’t the same company that brought us the Dreamcast and those glorious days of yore. I feel the need to investigate, because, quite frankly, this was one of the most mediocre games I’ve ever played. Let’s see if we can’t figure this out.

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Binary Domain takes place in a dystopian 2080, when global warming has caused much of the earth to flood. Conveniently enough, robots are invented just in time to labor by the millions and build new cities above the waves.

Strict limits are placed on robot sophistication, and enforced by elite squads of commandos called Rust Crews. The game opens shortly after a robot disguised as a human attacks a corporation in Detroit, apparently so well-disguised that even he doesn’t know he’s a robot.

B2

G’MURRRNIN!

The reasoning behind the robot’s attack is kind of left unanswered, but the Americans conclude that only Yoji Amada, a Japanese robotics guru, could have produced such advanced androids. A multinational Rust Crew is thus dispatched to Japan to arrest Amada.

Players assume the role of American sergeant Dan Marshall, who, along with his astonishingly stereotypical black sidekick Big Bo (AW HEYYULLL NA!) fights through hordes of robo-cops. The cast is rounded out by two dry British agents, a cat-suited Chinese sniper, and Cain, a flamboyant French robot. Throughout the game Dan is cryptically referred to as “the Survivor”. You want to know why? So do I, but the game forgets about that plot point.

B1

Because Bo is the black guy, he gets injured and obstructed a lot more than our other squad members.

As with Brink, a lot of my disappointment from Binary Domain came from what could have been. I was hoping for a deep discussion on the ethics of robotics and artificial intelligence, but all I got for my hopes and dreams was a six-hour slog through endless waves of droids. The game is more repetitive than an escalator.

One of the biggest problems I had with the wafer-thin plot was a massive disconnect between spoken and silent dialogue. Dan Marshall talks, a lot, in this game’s overly long cutscenes. During the gameplay, players have the option to communicate with their squadmates. This mechanic was championed by Sega as the next great step in character relationship building, but it feels quite the opposite. When a squadmate asks Dan a question, players can choose one of two reply options, but there’s no spoken dialogue; just a little “beep!”, and the NPCs respond. This created a silent vacuum where true character building could have taken place. It doesn’t help that some of the dialogue choices made no sense. At one point, I was asked “Should we take a shortcut?” by my British commander, and my only response choices were “you fool”, and “goddammit”.

Hey! Dan, you dumbass! Take the shortcut, it’ll make this game go by faster!

B4

Dan can’t shut up during the cutscenes but his in-game conversations are not voiced at all. This made dialogue and sense of character awkward.

The point of this little system is to build positive relationships with your team, so that they’ll more readily follow your suggestions. As long as you just give the nice response (when possible) you’ll be fine, so there’s no challenge to this mechanic. Your teammates will also shout the same recycled cheers and frustrations over and over again, which got old after the first half hour or so.

The next design problem I need to punch in the liver is the spoken dialogue itself, which is poorly written. Conversations are dragged out mercilessly in the cutscenes, and the script is riddled with enough cliches to satisfy an 80s action movie. Every character occupies a neat little stereotype. Charles and Rachel, the Brits, speak in Cockney accents and constantly refer to Dan as “Yank”, while French robot Cain cannot quit his insufferable French womanizer routine to save his cybernetic life. As with a lot of Japanese games and media, the characters often spend ten seconds staring at something and going “Ohhhhhhh” really loudly.  I’ve always found that to be funny.

B5

This is a regular gallery of stereotypes.

The only character not overly stereotyped is Faye Lee, the Chinese sniper. But, don’t worry, she’s plenty sexualized, with super-tight catsuit armor and big, childlike eyes. Her accent is only slightly Chinese. If it wasn’t obvious enough already, she’s the love interest, altered to better appeal to western teenagers. The game is also stuffed with laughable melodrama. There’s a section where you activate an elevator ahead of a robot swarm, but right before getting in and escaping, one of your teammates gets out, faces the robots, and says “so this is how it has to end.”

NO! It doesn’t have to end that way, you moron! You could have gotten away just fine! Creating drama out of thin air will make gamers laugh, not tear up. Christ…

B6

This game is melodramatic, enough to rival the infamous Yu Gi Oh cartoon, or an ABC soap opera.

The final nail in this coffin of a narrative is the cutscenes. The game has at least 10-15 painfully long pre-rendered videos that swallow whole battles and action sequences, while I sat there quietly, thinking “Damn, I wish I could actually be doing this!” This is a criticism I have of a lot of games, especially Final Fantasy, but cutscenes that are both too long and too numerous pull the player out of immersion and into tedium. We get bored, watching entire plot lines play out without any interactivity on our part.

Interactivity is what makes games more immersive as stories than other kinds of media, so having that taken away makes us feel frustrated and disconnected. Such is my biggest problem with Binary Domain; the dude who made this game seems to have slipped into a split personality in which he’s a film director rather than a game designer. Toward the end of the game, I suffered an agonizing 20-minute cutscene and FINALLY got to play again, but only managed to run down a short corridor before the game paused an ANOTHER 20-minute cutscene played. This is not good storytelling!

I didn't pay for a goddamn movie ticket, give me control and let's do this thing! PLEASE!!

I didn’t pay for a goddamn movie ticket, give me control and let’s do this thing! PLEASE!!

Though the plot is weak and riddled with open wounds, the gameplay is a workable if unexceptional round of third-person shooting. You can pick up sexy robot guns and blast away legions of metalheads.

Binary Domain also features tedious boss fights with gigantic robotic monsters. I often wondered how a big robotic ape that roars and pounds its chest fits into the police department’s security hierarchy, or a skyscraper-sized thing with spiked steamrollers for feet.

This giant patrol robot wouldn't be missed in a copy of 1984.

This giant patrol robot wouldn’t be missed in a copy of 1984.

Binary Domain does significantly better in the art department. Dan and his team navigate 2080s Tokyo from top to bottom, starting out at a giant seawall and moving in to a big metropolis. The visuals in these areas are impressive, but a lot of them are far away. They act more like skyboxes and backgrounds than an environment I can actually explore.

There’s one enjoyable section where you traverse some city ruins, and the pacing felt more organic, but the rest are pretty tedious slogs through steel corridors and walkways.

B9

A lot of the environments in Binary Domain are certainly good enough. I just wish they’d put as much effort into the story.

By 2080, Japan has devolved into a totalitarian state, but I don’t feel like the designers took advantage of this in the art design. Tokyo is a gleaming metropolis that does not at all reflect themes of dictatorship and loss of freedoms.

It’s pretty, but there’s no connection between it and the attempted darkness of the story. The voice actors weren’t bad in an of themselves; I blame the script.

These characters are very confined in their roles. There could have been a lot more to them.

These characters are very confined in their roles. There could have been a lot more to them.

I don’t really have anything else to say, at this point. The game’s environment is pretty much one big, glossy city with a few sewer bits that look pretty much like any other sewer. There’s one part where you have to jetski down a giant cistern, which was fun, but the rest of the game’s pacing is monotonous.

Binary Domain‘s plot is nearly incomprehensible, and there’s nothing in its gameplay you won’t find in other, better shooters, like the Mass Effect series and Spec Ops: The Line. I was kept from enjoying this game by bad plot and endless waves of robots. It’s clear that Sega is not the same company as the one that brought us the Dreamcast era of games. And as long as they put out works as crappy as this, they will never return to grace.

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You can buy Binary Domain here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Assassin’s Creed II

AC

Avenge your family’s murder in a decades-long quest for the truth.

PC Release: March 4, 2010

By Ian Coppock

My quest to analyze video games’ story and artwork has brought me to WordPress and a new website, following the bug-riddled end of Belltow3r Gaming. It is my great passion and pleasure to welcome you to the first original Art as Games review, Assassin’s Creed II. Whether you’re a console gamer looking for something great at the tail end of generation 7, or a PC gamer for whom all generations are kind of woven into an ongoing tapestry, hi there. Let’s get started on the second installment in Ubisoft’s flagship series.

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Assassin’s Creed II picks up literally from the last frame of the first Assassin’s CreedJust as our hero Desmond Miles is about to be minced up by his Templar captors, an Assassin pops out of nowhere and spirits him out of Abstergo to a safehouse. Desmond is introduced to a new Assassin crew, including the delightfully snarky Shaun Hastings, a British database expert, and Rebecca Crane, an engineer who administers the sexy Animus 2.0. This thing is a huge improvement over that concrete slab of the Templar’s.

The Animus is a device that could find the memories of ancestors locked away in Desmond’s DNA, and render them as a simulation. Having already assumed the role of his stoic Syrian ancestor Altair, Desmond uses the Animus 2.0 to jump a few centuries’ worth of ancestors to the Italian Renaissance, and into the shoes of Ezio Auditore. His mission? To absorb all of Ezio’s assassination skills directly into his own mind, and fight the modern Templars.

Can I just say that this is the ultimate... chair. Eating, sleeping, massage, computers, gaming, goddammit this chair is awesome.

Can I just say that this is the ultimate… chair. Eating, sleeping, massage, computers, gaming, goddammit this chair is awesome.

When I first played this, I had no damn clue how I was supposed to be an assassin. After being teleported into a beautifully rendered Florence, I saw that Ezio is a teenage rich kid who spends his time drinking and chasing skirts.

My first few side quests consisted of just these goals, including a button-by-button woo-hooing of the hottest girl in Florence. The only thing this dude assassinates is virginity.

It's possible that Ezio was the progenitor from which all Bros are descended. At least at first.

It’s possible that Ezio was the progenitor from which all Bros are descended. At least at first.

But, things take a drastic turn when Ezio’s father and brothers are hanged by the Florentine government  before his very eyes. Marked a fugitive and a traitor, Ezio skips town with his mother and little sister, all hints of that bravado I saw not twenty minutes ago replaced by grief and rage. Ezio stumbles into the care of his uncle, Mario Auditore, who reveals that he and Ezio’s late father were members of an ancient order of assassins. Ezio learns that the bastards who killed half his family (including a sickly six-year old, seriously, what the hell?) are those dastardly Templars, back for more after the thrubbing Altair gave them centuries ago. He trains under his uncle, and because it’s the “II” sequel, he starts wielding two of the iconic weapon instead of just one. This transition is a secret rule of video game sequels.

As Ezio travels between Florence, Venice, Tuscany and his new home base of Montoriggioni, he encounters a cast of strange and wonderful characters. These include a young Leonardo Da Vinci, who is almost obnoxiously high on life, the lovely Catarina Sforza, and Rodrigo Borgia. Better known by his later papal name, Alexander VI, Borgia is cast as the leader of the Italian Templars and the primary antagonist of the game. As with the first game, the Templars seek peace through psychic control, and as a guardian of mankind’s free will, Ezio must focus on this war as much as his quest for personal revenge.

The world's greatest control freaks return as a shadow organization in AC II, led by Rodrigo Borgia, AKA Spanish Emperor Palpatine. They are responsible for Ezio's loss.

The world’s greatest control freaks return as a shadow organization in AC II, led by Rodrigo Borgia, AKA Spanish Emperor Palpatine. They are responsible for Ezio’s loss.

I like Assassin’s Creed II because it is one of the strongest arcs of character development I’ve seen in a game. Ezio’s journey spans the course of decades (the game begins when he’s 16 and it ends when he’s 40). The game excels at portraying the character’s changing views and emotions as he kills his way across Renaissance Italy, and as he grows from a young, angry boy into a seasoned killer. He throws in a bit of existential philosophy from time to time, arguing with others and himself about which course is best for humanity’s future. Though the game takes only 20 hours or so to finish, these constant character tweaks made it seem as though it actually was 24 years long, in an engrossing sort of way. Though traumatized by the deaths of his family, Ezio retains the charm he had as a boy, and can turn almost any situation into an opportunity to get laid.

The game also explores how Ezio’s actions change the course of Italy over those decades. Entire regimes rise and fall, landscapes and political atmospheres change, and commoners become more aggressive about taking what is theirs. Ezio makes a few friends and a ton of enemies because of this, and though he welcomes the positive change, his primary focus is avenging his father and brothers. A lot of games don’t bother to portray the consequences of player actions, especially over such a long course of time. This made the game more immersive, because the ramifications of my actions became clear as the plot progressed.

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The game excels at portraying Ezio and how his personality grows over years and decades.

Though Assassin’s Creed II is a wonderful game, it has a few plot problems. I didn’t like how nearly every historical character Ezio met (and he meets a lot of them) fall onto either the Assassin or Templar side of the war. Where’s the in-between, the shades of gray that make the story less polarized? In this way, the game failed to take true story advantage of the political chaos that was the Renaissance. I also thought that the game was too stuffed with historical characters, and you might wonder at how that could be a bad thing, but it left less room for the few original, more interesting characters. You even run into Machiavelli, who, despite his authoritarian views, is somehow an Assassin and not a Templar.

I think the game also leaned a bit too much on Leonardo da Vinci, one of its proudest selling points. He’s the convenient inventor archetype, who can build guns and decipher ancient Egyptian squirrel droppings without batting an eyelash, but do we question that? No, because it’s goddamn Leonardo da Vinci. His presence is just a little too convenient for the sake of the plot; he moves to whichever locale Ezio is hunting in, and he’s always on hand to build and decipher stuff, even though history tells us his schedule was a bit ridiculous.

Leonardo da Vinci is a major character in the game. He is constantly excited and can't get enough out of study and exploration.

Leonardo da Vinci is a major character in the game. He is constantly excited and can’t get enough out of study and exploration.

Also, the game’s timekeeping is confusing. I’d drop in, kill an Italian fatcat, cut to cutscene, and it would suddenly say “three years later”. I don’t understand. Did the mission happen over three years, or did Ezio spend three years drinking wine and eating pasta, or what? So that’s a bit rocky and jarring.

The biggest wrench ACII threw into my gears was just before the end sequence. I was all pumped and ready to go on to the final mission, when the game vomited a magical wall  into my path and said “whoa there, hotshot! You gotta collect those codex page collectibles before you can do the finale.” Oh, I see. A collectible you touted as a “get when you feel like it” deal is now essential to doing the final mission??? The dramatic tension could not have destroyed itself faster if it had confused hot dogs with dynamite. So I had to tear across the game world for three hours looking for the damn things. Take my advice; collect them as if they’re marked necessary (because they are necessary).

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Damn things.

Combat in AC II is similar to the first game, but Ezio has a much more expanded arsenal than Altair. In addition to knives and a sword, Ezio also gets… um… well he gets a wrist-mounted gun, which is pretty badass. The game also has an economy, so I can actually throw coins to get those beggars to leave me alone (you’re also dogged by annoying musicians). As with the first game, your lifebar is dependent upon Ezio’s actions. Killing innocents will degrade it, and eating medicine will bring it back up to speed. A little unbalanced, but whatever. Ezio can also leap across buildings and scale the frickin’ Duomo without breaking a sweat. The series runs on parkour, so no surprises there.

Assassin’s Creed II excels in the art department. The game’s rendition of 15th-century Italy is gorgeous, and no subsequent AC game has succeeded in matching its visual majesty. Like the first game, AC II is open-world, and is divided into several zones that you can loaf about in. The first, Florence, is a beautiful collection of towers, market squares and villas. Vines creep down cream-colored buildings and people amble down wide streets with their goods and children in tow. Town criers announce everything from the latest works of art to punishments for defacing the local church, and beefy merchants war over whose wares are the best.

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Florence is lovely. Most of the game’s structures are real, such as the Duomo.

Florence was my favorite location, but it was well-complimented by the Tuscan countryside. Ezio can wander the endless wheat fields under a golden sun, visiting the various farming estates, or meander through the small walled towns comprising the region’s beacons of civilization. Montoriggioni, Ezio’s new base, is a walled village that you can pay to rebuild and improve, adding an interactive element to the artwork that I really enjoyed.

The last half or so of the game takes place in Venice, and it faithfully replicates the city’s spectacular landmarks. Palaces and citadels that look like something out of an ocean myth line narrow avenues, while fishermen traverse the canals and artists capture the vista on their canvases. Ezio can survey all of this from a boat of his own or traverse the rooftops, though doing so risks angering the psychotic pricks otherwise known as rooftop guards.

Venice has a sense of scale unmatched by anything else in the game or series.

Venice has a sense of scale unmatched by anything else in the game or series.

The game’s score is sweeping and light, incorporating plenty of fast-paced Mediterranean strings and quieter, more contemplative violins. The voice acting is pretty good, but Roger Craig Smith’s performance as Ezio is the only one that stood out to me. I’m glad that, unlike the last game, they hired a guy who had an actual local accent to play the part. You’ll be surprised at how much Italian you’ll learn; characters will often speak common phrases and bits of sentences in Italian. Rebecca, the Animus engineer, passes this off as glitches.

As I said up top, there’s something acutely kickass about surveying the majesty of Baroque architecture from atop the Duomo, and subsequent Assassin’s Creed games haven’t been able to match that sense of visual power. Music, perhaps, but not the sheer artwork that was the highlight of the times. These gigantic pieces of art made the cities I visited seem more alive, and are good examples of how visual power can drive the sense of urgency and consequence in a narrative.

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Glorious.

Assassin’s Creed II has some narrative stumbling blocks, but the game is well-put together. Even if you’re not interested in the larger mythos, I’d recommend getting this game. It’s by far the best and most epic of the series, and I think it’s also the prettiest. The game has a nice length, 20 hours or so of core gaming, plus more if you do the side missions. Experience it for yourself!

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You can buy Assassin’s Creed II here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Assassin’s Creed

AC4

Save the Holy Land, and yourself, through the art of assassination.

PC Release: April 8, 2008

By Ian Coppock

I was scrolling through my reviews the other day and brought myself back to Assassin’s Creed, which was the first review I’d ever written. I then realized that i haven’t reviewed the four games leading up to that one, and thought it would be a good idea to do so.

Long before the adventures of Connor, the Assassin’s Creed series began in another time and with another protagonist. Assassin’s Creed takes us to the Middle East, and not because we’re playing Call of Duty and have been dropped in to shoot the brown people. Rather, the game is a historical fiction narrative. My friend Bret introduced me to this series a few years ago. It’s not perfect, but it contains novel gameplay and is worthy of your time to review.

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Assassin’s Creed operates on a pair of interlocked story lines. The first takes place in 2012 and follows a bartender named Desmond Miles. Desmond has been kidnapped by the shadowy Abstergo Corporation for reasons he can only guess at, until an asshole scientist reveals that his DNA contains the memories of his ancestors.

Desmond is strapped into the Animus, a machine that can scan those memories and turn them into a simulation. He doesn’t know what Abstero is looking for, but it’s locked in his head somewhere.

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Desmond is a captive of this strange company. One of the scientists, Lucy, is empathetic to his situation.

In the Animus, Desmond takes command of his ancestor, Altair Ibn-La Ahad, a Syrian assassin who was active during the Crusades. The story begins as Altair and two assassins are exploring ruins beneath Jerusalem. Arrogant and overconfident, Altair breaks the assassins’ tenets in order to be more “efficient” at his job.

Altair’s aloofness costs the group dearly when they encounter a group of Christian knights, and he barely escapes without the treasure he’d been sent to retrieve. He returns to the assassins’ fortress empty-handed, infuriating his master. To make matters worse, the knights follow him to their fortress and lay siege, killing many innocents.

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This has not been a great day.

Though the knights are fought off and one of Altair’s buddies comes back with the treasure, he is berated in front of the entire order and demoted from master to novice. His master, Al Mualim, offers him a chance at redemption: kill nine men who threaten the peace of the Holy Land. He begrudgingly takes the job and leaves the fortress.

From there, Altair must kill these nine targets dispersed across three major cities. Assassin’s Creed does a good job of portraying Altair’s changing character, as he becomes less aloof and more willing to follow the tenets of the titular assassin’s creed. As he travels between cities and makes his kills, Altair begins to suspect that the nine men are working in concert, despite being on opposites sides of the war.

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Altair’s journey takes him across the Middle East, into areas held by both sides of the Crusades.

Altair begins to change his perception with his journey. Assassin’s Creed explores themes of murder and humanity with each conversation. Though the assassin order’s work is dark, they encourage themselves to stick with the guilt that comes with taking a life, as it makes them human. This type of writing is a rarity in a genre when lots of deaths are met with sassy one-liners from the protagonist, instead of a more realistic reaction.

In the modern day, Desmond is given breaks between Animus sessions and attempts to escape from Abstergo. Though he initially believes that Altair’s conspiracy was long in the past, he begins drawing connections between his ancestor’s targets and the company now holding him hostage. Desmond doesn’t evolve much as a character, beyond a sarcastic every-man, but he starts uncovering a scheme himself. All of it is linked to whatever Altair discovered centuries ago.

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Desmond plays ball with his captors by day, and seeks a way out by night.

Assassin’s Creed is an open-world game, in which Altair can roam freely in massive, gorgeously detailed cities. He can ride horses through the desert to reach his destination, and can explore city blocks filled with open-air markets, mosques and other landmarks.

Assassin’s Creed does a good job of portraying the hellhole that was the Crusades from a neutral standpoint, portraying the atrocities that both Christians and Muslims committed during the war. It makes for an interesting game when you hear Christian and Muslim preachers each hawking their idea of a God and of victory.

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Clues as to your target’s whereabouts are scattered in each city. Finding them all can be a challenge.

Altair’s gameplay mechanics are built around stealth and hiding in plain sight. Though he has a sword for getting out of hairy situations, Altair can assassinate enemies with a retractable hidden blade. Players must manually push past people, hide and look inconspicuous. The only issue is that combat in this game is a breeze; you simply wait until your opponent attacks, then counter-attack with lethal force. The game’s ease of combat makes running and hiding much less of a must-do.

Altair has other options if the guards get the jump on him. Players can elude local law enforcement by breaking the enemy’s line of sight, but must remain hidden until the danger passes. Altair can also take shelter at your friendly neighborhood assassin hideout, but only if he’s not being chased by guards.

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Altair is an expert swordsman who can cut down swarms of guards. Assassin’s Creed doesn’t do enough to reward discretion.

Assassin’s Creed‘s health mechanic is novel; it’s portrayed as synchronization with the actual events of the ancestor. You can lose health by getting hit by enemies, but you can also lose it by doing something that the real Altair wouldn’t have, like killing a civilian. You regain synchronization by completing a memory or hiding from danger, confident in the knowledge that the real Altair is much more of a badass than you.

The actual assassinations require planning and skill. Altair must gather the aforementioned clues on each target through investigating leads. These missions include pickpocketing intelligence, eavesdropping, or just beating the crap out of an informant. You only need so much information to start the assassination mission, but the more you have, the better prepared you’ll be. The PC version of Assassin’s Creed contains more missions and side activities than either console edition.

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Being a good assassin is all about detective work.

Now that we’ve got all the cool stuff out of the way, I have to do my job and tell you what’s wrong with Assassin’s Creed. The game is very repetitive. All nine assassination missions begin, operate and end in the exact same way. Go to city, gather info, kill target, go home for a pat on the head, rinse and repeat. Not once does the game deviate from this formula, and by mission five or six I was pretty sick of it.

The game’s controls are pretty smooth, even for a PC port, but they’re not without problems. Altair can seamlessly parkour over obstacles and perform other feats, but the problem is that the run and jump functions are tied to the same key. I lost count of how many times I ran near a parkour-able object and accidentally performed gymnastics on it. This can make chasing targets or fleeing from guards needlessly frustrating.

A6

No! I wanted to go for a jog, not ballet-hop to the top of a guard tower!

The other gameplay feature I took issue with were the beggars. Not to say that I detest homeless people, but in that they ask for money that Altair does not have. Assassin’s Creed does not have an economy, so to be badgered by beggars who won’t leave you alone unless you outrun them is irritating.

It’s not that I don’t want to give them money; it’s that I can’t give them money.

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Beggars can mess up your approach to a target if you’re not careful.

Assassin’s Creed‘s environments are wonderfully designed. Each city is done out in painstaking detail, down to the orange vines on the merchant’s villa. As in other Assassin’s Creed games, commoners and soldiers go about their business. They serve as more than a way to hide, or to fight. They make the environments feel convincing.

Altair’s outfit is purposefully designed to make him resemble a monk, but that won’t stop you from getting preached at by priests and imams. It also won’t stop awesomely bearded carpet merchants from insisting that their prices are the best in the Middle East. There’s a big, beautiful rural environment linking these cities together, but it contains no missions or much impetus at all for exploring it.

A8

Beautiful.

Assassin’s Creed has decent character animations and voice acting, but nothing truly special. The voice acting confused me because they hired an American to voice the Syrian Altair, which makes even less sense when all of his compatriots have Syrian accents. I get that this was probably done to make Altair’s dialogue more discernible to a western audience, but it broke immersion to hear him talk.

The music, though, is special. It incorporates the traditional western orchestra as well as eastern drums and chants. Brazen horns sound when you arrive to each city, which made me feel like a goddamn sultan. The music was carefully arranged to chime in at all the right moments, and that can make a game significantly better.

A10

HAIL TO ME

This first chapter in the Assassin’s Creed saga is not without some struggles and speed bumps, but it’s a good start to one of my favorite series. It does most everything well enough to stand out in a crowded field, and I recommend it to everyone from history nerds to stealth fanatics. Get cutting.

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You can buy Assassin’s Creed here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Xotic

X

Save a beautiful planet from the clutches of an omnipresent monster.

PC Release: September 15, 2011

By Ian Coppock

Some video games are best played alone. Metroid Prime is the best example of this fact. For those of you who missed out on perhaps the greatest game released on the GameCube, Metroid Prime follows a bounty hunter as she explores a beautiful, abandoned world. Critics and gamers alike praised the feeling of isolation that came with Prime. It’s not loneliness, it’s wild reflection. I’ve found that same atmosphere lacking in today’s generation of games, until I discovered Xotic, a bizarre and colorful indie game. It’s no Metroid, but it carries that same spirit of exploration and exoticism that made that game great.

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Xotic takes place on an nameless alien world. You are a bio-engineered creature who has been charged with saving the world from a merciless, god-like being called the Orb.

After eons spent as an intangible creature, the Orb wishes to feel alive again, but can only do so by choking the life out of its host planets. To that end, the Orb has corrupted the planet’s denizens into monsters, and seeded it with thousands of glowing red plants called scabs. Destroying the scabs and the monsters is the only way to kill the orb.

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The Orb is a tragic character, but it and its corruption have got to go.

Where your character comes from or what they are, exactly, is unknown. It’s implied that the alien you play has cleansed worlds of the Orb’s presence before. Your character’s primary weapon is the Macro Terra, a living, insect-shaped gun that has symbiotically bonded to you. As you level up, you can unlock different types of ammo for it.

Your character is guided by an unknown narrator whose synthesized voice sounds like the Reapers from the Mass Effect series. You and your Macro Terra must complete about 22 levels divided into four regions. Additional regions and missions are available as cheap downloadable content. In most missions, your only objective is to destroy all of the orb’s minions, and as many of its plants as possible.

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The Orb’s minions populate each level. A lot of them look like evil palm trees.

Xotic‘s primary game mechanic is a score and combo tracker. You can rack up tons of points for destroying as many enemies and plants in as little time as possible. The plants cause splashing damage when shot at, allowing you to take out entire rows of the things like a tumbling line of dominoes.

I don’t normally care about points and combos, but Xotic makes it fun. The game rewards exploration and creativity, which are traits I like to think I’m good with. In addition to the plants, there are floating gems that you can grab for additional points.

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Rows of plants garner the most points, but you can destroy floating “orb brains” for additional points.

I like Xotic because it brings the same element of solitary exploration endemic to Metroid Prime. You are alone against hordes of baddies and pickups, but it doesn’t carry the tone of a survival horror game. Rather, it’s like having a big, beautiful world all to yourself.

What breaks my heart about Xotic is that the gameplay is quite clunky. Your character jumps like the world has no gravity, making it difficult to judge distances and height. For whatever reason, it’s also next to impossible to move your gun as you’re shooting it. I died a few times because I had to move my Macro Terra’s path to match a speeding enemy’s, but couldn’t afford to stop firing because the hitboxes are so poor.

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YAAAAAAAH!

To be fair, your character can deploy a shield called the hard hologram for combat and platforming. Unfortunately, I found it getting in the way more often than actually being helpful.

It takes practice, but the headaches with the hard hologram are surmountable. With each level completed, your character gains points that can be used for upgrades. You can upgrade everything from hit points to ammunition.

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Xotic’s upgrades are simple to understand and implement.

Xotic‘s graphics are hardly top of the line, but they succeed in conveying the game’s colorful atmosphere, and that’s good enough. The level design suffers from being too linear, which takes away from the sense of adventure in exploring this alien world.

Enemies are laid out in a straightforward path between you and where the teleporter will arrive once they’re all dead. They also populate level segments replete with walls, making the shooting feel more conventional than the weird environments try for.

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Despite its level design issues, Xotic is quite beautiful.

Xotic‘s landscapes are, well, exotic. Your character visits underground temples, desert canyons, glass cities and other environments in his quest to free the planet from the Orb. The stark beauty of these environments and their relative uniqueness kept me interested throughout the adventure.

Xotic is also complimented by a contemplative, beautiful score. The music features overlays of electronica and dance, but remains quiet and cool in its sound. It was fitting for what the game tries to accomplish.

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I can’t photograph a contemplative music track, so here’s a picture of one of my favorite levels.

The feeling of solitary exploration is evident in Xotic‘s level and game design. With hidden caches of pickups and occasional but not overwhelming enemies, it pays strong homage to Metroid Prime. You don’t need to find all of the plants and pickups to progress, but you do need to find enough to prompt thorough exploration.

There are also bonus levels which contain nothing but the aforementioned plants and pickups, and challenge you to collect them all before time runs out. If you’re one of those people whose gaming is meaningless without a leaderboard, breathe easy, because Xotic has lots of them.

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Xotic is nothing if not a study in contrast.

Xotic is an interesting game, to say the least. It has a soothing world and environmental artwork seldom seen anymore. It’s marred by some annoying gameplay issues that were never resolved, but if you like to explore and shoot things at the same time, Xotic is for you. I beat it in about four hours on a diet of water and green tea, so it’s by no means impossible.

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You can buy Xotic here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.