Aug 13, 2017

12.: Getting Insane

Think about Digital Distribution for Video Games what you whant, the fact that it is much cheaper for smaller Studios to self-publish their games and therefor cut off the big Publishers is amazing. Hellblade: Senua´s Sacrifice is the perfect example for this. Because developer Ninja Theory self published this game they where able to really make the exact game tghey wanted to make without any compromises to any publisher what so ever. And Hellblade truly is a game that could only be realised without someone telling the devs what they could and couldn´t do with their game because it deals with a very sensitive topic. Senua, the main character, suffers from a mental illness known as Psycosis. This is a condition that can take various forms, in Senua for example see´s and hear´s things that aren´t there, and you as the player has to deal with that too. Almost all the time you hear various voices around you, some talking you down for you stupid your actions are, some encouraging you, some giving you hints and helping you in combat. To really surround you by these voices Ninja Theory decided to use a Binaural Audio System instead of traditinal 5.1 Sound. Binaural Audio is a System Audio Recording system that allows to position and hear audio from all directions using only Stereo Headphones, and it is really incredible to hear. If you never experienced Binaural Audio yourself search Google for the "Virtual Barbershop", put your Stereo Headphones on and be amazed. Now Imagine hearing various Voices thoughout a videogame. And the more the game progresses the more you begin to wonder if the things that happen to Senua on the screen are really happening to her or not.

Gameplaywise you are solving puzzles, fight against enemies and try to stay sane yourself. The Puzzles are usualy a matter of finding rune shapes in the environment, however this can sometimes be a tricky task because you have to get to the right spot to be able to do this and simetimes it isn´t very clear where or what makes the shape. In general these puzzles are fairly good though since most of them require you to change the landscape around you a bit by finding gates or using masks. The other major gameplay element is the combat system. While it is not very deep it still manages to feel overwhelming at times, especially during Boss fights. Enemies are always stronger than yourself and more often than not outnumber you. Senua has to evade their attacks or block them before she can land some hits on her foes. You can take a look at the controls in the menu, everything else you have to figure out yourself. There is no Tutorial, no on-screen help, no HUD, only the voices in your head give you a hint from time to time. Voice acting is top notch, but that´s to be expected considering the topic Hellblade deals with, the Soundtrack takes a backseat for the most part, but that´s actually a good thing here. Not because it is bad, but because it really shouldn´t be the focus of the sound since music could easily distract and get in the way of the voices. Unreal Engine 4 is really showing what it can do here, Hellblade looks like a big budget game from a big studio, if not better. 

I love Hellblade for everything that it isn´t and doesn´t have. It is not a Dark Souls clone, it has no Skill Trees and no unlockable super weapons, it isn´t a Action RPG and isn´t a large, epic journey like Enslaved was. But I love it at least as much for everything that it is. It is a unique Story set within the very interesting northern mythology, it is an insane trip into the mind of young woman suffering from Psycosis that just whant´s to save her love. It is dark, brutal and unlike anything else you ever played before. At this point I can´t even tell you if the Permadeath feature is real or not. I can just tell you that I dies multiple times during my first playthrough and I didn´t fall victim to a Permadeath, however I don´t know if it really is there or not. It might as well just be something Ninja Theory uses to to play with the mind of the players. Hellblade is well worth the money, it´s a roughly 8 to 10 hour long game, and considering that some games that cost you twice as much are sometimes shorter than this you can´t really complain. Just do yourself a favour and play it with headphones, even a 5.1 Speaker setup would ruin half the experience.

Aug 2, 2017

11: Fast and Furious - The Game

Back when the first Fast & Furious Movie was the hot new shit in cinemas it suddenly became cool to seriously rice out. Let´s just hope that this trend will never come back. EA being EA of course decided to use this sudden horrible taste in car modification and combined it with their most popular Racing Franchise and the result was Need for Speed: Underground. And I love it. Why? Because it is a frikkin great game once you managed to llok beyond all the rice. The heart of the game is the Underground Mode where you are presented with 111 Events that you have to win in order to unlock better cars, more and more tasteless mods, performance upgrades and money to buy all this stuff. When your start the game you get a short, 2-Lap Chance to drive something faster, after that you have to buy something much more boring like a Dodge Neon or Golf Mk4 and with that you have to win illegal races in the fictional Olympic City. Even though the city has a network of roads, many tracks even sharing the same bits and pieces, you can´t drive around the city freely. On the other hand this allowed the developers to put much more details into the surrounding world and as a result the visuals somewhat still hold up today, the fact that the entire game is at night and on wet streets only helps to keep the visuals from looking too boring. Racing is done either and circuits with multiple laps or on point-to-point tracks with variying amount of traffic. Other than that you get Drag Racing wich forces you to use manual shifting and similar to the races you have to deal with random traffic. Drift Races are done on clodes off circuits, so you don´t have to bother with traffic, even your opponents are only represented by their score and not on the track itself. Every once in a while you get the chance to win special, unique parts in a time trial, in these you have to beat a certain time on one of the point-to-point tracks.

At least in the first 2/3 to 3/4 of the game you don´t have to worry too much about your actual opponents since they only get challenging closer to the end of the game. That´s at least if you are like me and you play a lot of racing games. The rendom Traffic can cost you few races though since these bastards can come out of nowhere and sometimes are even placed in a way that you will hit them no matter what when you follow any sensible racing line. Being a Need for Speed game the handling model is very Arcady, but it is always controlable and if you like you can turn off a stability control wich allows you to drift much more easily outside of the actual drift events. The Soundtrack is great mix of Hip-Hop / Rap, Rock / Metal and Electronic Music and you can decide wich tracks you whant to hear and if you whant them in Races, Menus or both. Overall it is a great game and still worth playing even almost 15 years after it´s original release, but you really have to either for whatever messed up reason like all the rice in this game or you have to be able to just ignore it, using the bumper view helps a lot with the later. And before someone asks: I am one of the few people that actualy thinks that the Original Underground was better than the 2nd one, mostly because I think that the open city in the sequel felt a lot like filler content between the races, especialy since all the visual and performance upgrades where spread across 4 different shops. The Original just feels much more Streamlined in many places.