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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Synth Riders

Synth Riders is a casual VR rhythm game and I will review the game from the point of view of a (competitive) arcade rhythm gamer that started playing VR games recently (or maybe I should say Beat Saber).

Many rhythm games are 'see a note, hit it at the correct time' type of a game and Synth Riders is one of those. In the non-VR world of games there is nothing wrong with this kind of approach because there can be various controllers that can make the game complex and deep be it a 'simulation' of musical instrument (see Gitadora) or a totally new controller (check Sound Voltex for example).

Apart from the controller part, the games often differ in scoring system. Some games are accuracy based (Beatmania IIDX) and some are combo based (DJMAX) which can make these game very different. Synth Riders is a combo based game meaning you need to full combo (hit all notes without missing any) in order to have a chance to get a good score. The higher the combo the higher a multiplier for the score you get. Then depending on which mode you choose the game has some kind of judgments and scoring system. In the default mode - Rhythm - you can get a Perfect (100% of the score), a Good (50%) or a Poor (25%) for hitting a note (perfect means hitting the center) Being accurate while missing a bit won't make you beat a bad full combo score.

The way how Force works is a mystery to me because 'hitting harder' while there is no resistance has no meaning to me (it does take speed and possibly range of motion into account). How successful you are with your punches, swings or whatever you do is shown in a bar which gives you pretty much no information about what was going on.

The problem with this kind of rhythm games in VR is that a VR game has to come up with something new that also works well. The controllers you'll be using to play the game will be the very same, be it two Oculus Touch controllers I use or Index knuckles you might use. So the games have to stand out in the game play mechanics and scoring system (and that is something Beat Saber does well). VR is not meant for accuracy and it shows. Synth Riders suffers from it a bit. It is very easy to confirm notes by accident and if you really wish to you can just punch through difficult parts because it tends to pick the correct 'touches' rather.

Game play, in Synth Riders you have colored orbs in your hands and a notes will come from further away to closer to you. When they reach you, you have to hit them with the corresponding colored orb. You have blue notes that you need to hit with a blue orb and magenta notes that you hit with the magenta orb. Then there are sections that you have to play with either of your hand (you start with one hand and have to finish with that hand, these parts are green by default) or you have to use both hands kept close to each other (gold parts). Apart from the single orb notes you have to hit there are 'rails'. Those are long notes and your hand has to follow them from start to finish.

If you miss a note you will lose certain amount of energy. That actually seems to be quite a drastic amount but I don't think it's more than in other rhythm games. Often four consecutive misses in a game kill you from 50% of your life bar and I don't think Synth Riders is any different (I don't know, just a guess).

One more aspect that can vary a lot in rhythm games is learning curve. Games that have a steep learning curve may cause players not want to even try them (Beatmania IIDX) while there are games that are very beginner friendly (Sound Voltex or Beat Saber) and still get very difficult at higher levels. Synth Riders is easy to learn but already requires more skill than Beat Saber at first. I don't think this is a big problem. On the other hand the fact that Synth Riders won't get too complex later on is something I find more problematic.

As for graphics, the game is set into a retro-futuristic setting which creates a good ambience but is not necessarily something you can visually enjoy or consider stunning. Synth Riders may not have the best graphics out there but it works, is flashy enough to catch your eye and is primarily functional.

The songs are mostly synth wave or how to call it (electronic music). Something you'd expect from a sci-fi movie from 80s and it will certainly remind you of (original) Tron. Some of the song packs are really great and I enjoyed the Electro Swing one a lot.

Maps are good (compared to Beat Saber officials). They are well done so there is a certain learning curve and that you have a lot of room to dance to the tunes. I haven't played on Easy or Normal but there is a difference between Hard, Expert and Master. The lower the difficulty to more straightforward the charts are and make you alternate your hands more while keeping your hands at their respective sides. On Expert the notes can be out of line so you might need to be crossing your arms and there are more patterns that you have to do with one hand. On Master you are required to do different kind of motion with each hand at times. You will also notice that the speed and density gets higher with each difficulty level.

The UI is good even though the game lacks an actual song manager (honestly I spent more time staring into a text editor do change stuff).

There are quality of life options that can make the game playable (if you suffer from visual effects like me) and streamable. It has everything you need for streaming in game! For example it has in-game support of VRM avatars and camera views. Everything is set so the community can customize the game and add other custom content - songs, platforms, mods etc.

Verdict: Synth Riders is a rhythm game that in its default settings doesn't bring anything new and is rather lacking both in game mechanics and score system. The game though will bring you as much fun as you manage to get out of it - be it by actually dancing, using various mods to spice up the game or modes to enlarge the play area or be able to play in (up to) 360 degrees.

This means that if you don't want move to move you don't need to and this way you can find the game very boring. This is the kind of the game you need to be in flow with otherwise it won't give you anything. If you wish to get good at the game and excel you might also hit a ceiling quite fast because there simply isn't enough depth to the game and all it will come down is accuracy/force which is a very vague thing in this game. The game lacks clarity and feedback of other games which makes it difficult to try to get good. You won't feel rewarded for clearing a song or even feel much satisfaction hitting an orb.

The game features good music (even though it depends on your taste) and very well done maps. There are leaderboards for the songs. The game has a nice community and gets a lot of love from it. The community brings new content and there are always people around for multiplayer.

I see this game as a hit or miss because it's more about you than the game itself. I enjoyed the game a lot because I like to move to the rhythm of songs and I was looking for something that would allow me to freely move and exercise. If I can hit some notes while at it I'm happy. I felt the game lacking on many fronts though very quickly and I doubt the replayability of the game. It's a good workout if are someone who likes to move around a lot.

If you are looking for a competitive game, game with good or innovative game play, look elsewhere.

If you can feel the flow and enjoy it this game will provide enough entertainment and fun for hours.

S'Tsung (stsungjp @ Twitter)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Machizzle

I always loved puzzle games and nowadays it's quite rare to see a puzzle game that would require one to think hard about solving something. Finding a puzzle game that is good and is also fun is really hard. Machizzle is a 3d puzzle game which means that you will have to think in order to beat the levels. The goal is simple. There is a ball that is placed somewhere above the board and you need to create a path for it to reach a goal while collecting all keys scattered on the board. To do that you have a range of different objects that you can use. You can use different kinds of blocks or platforms that can help you create a path. Other objects can be used to change direction of the ball or make it move faster (or both at once) which can help you get the ball on higher levels. There are also bombs and portals and even some gravity changing arrows. All these add to the complexity of the game and are fun to fiddle with. First you will need to learn what the objects do and how they can be used.

The game starts with a tutorial followed by very easy levels. Then with each level the complexity gets higher. There are 80 levels in the campaign. Some levels are more about the fun and exploring what a new object does. Being able to move objects in the air to move the ball is something that adds to the complexity and can make the game more challenging since more thinking in 3d is needed. The game introduces physics elements one by one and one can play with them in the respective levels. Trying to break physics in this game is lost of fun. Many levels have several solutions and it is not needed to use all the objects that you have at your disposal. Some solutions will only work from time to time depending on the physics which is also fun to see (it usually means there is another solution that works 100 percent of the time). Seeing the little ball follow the path you created and reach the end is rewarding. If you get stuck you don't need to worry because there is a hint system.

The atmosphere of the game is good. You will find yourself trapped in a dungeon but the light and warm colors won't make you feel uneasy. The surroundings are nicely done and there are items you can pick up and look at them more closely. There is also a dog that will be walking around and you can even play fetch with it if you manage to grab a stick (not everyone can grab something on the floor). There is a little story too.

The game also features a custom level editor so you can go crazy, create some levels and submit them for revision.

Verdict:
Puzzle games in VR exist but so far those I encountered are more about the the environment and immersion while they do not provide a challenge. Machizzle puts the emphasis on the puzzles you need to solve. They are physics bending and often fun and feel rewarding when you solve them. The game is perfect for those who like puzzle games where thinking is required and for those that like to experiment.

S'Tsung (stsungjp @ Twitter)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Beat Saber Challenge no.2

A second Beat Saber Challenge started on January 1. I decided to participate and if possible finish the challenge. We were given a list of songs for each day. The difficulty and mods are up to us. This challenge contains song pack songs but there is alternative for those that do not own them.

Since I played the first challenge when I just started playing Beat Saber it was an actual challenge to pass some of those songs. I wrote a blog post about the first challenge and it includes playlist of the videos as well. This time around I don't have that problem so I decided to play the songs with Faster Song and Disappearing Arrows. I made an exception on Day 8 and played 360 degrees mode version of Overkill. Few days in I realized that I could make the game look the way it was intended and I turned on all the effects. I hoped that this would make it more interesting to watch the videos since they wouldn't look the same. This way I was able to see the different platforms, note colors and dynamic lights. I have to admit that playing with all this is pretty difficult and makes me sick pretty fast. Playing a Linkin Park song almost gave me a seizure so I wasn't a fan of that.

If you are interested in watching the videos here they are. This time I created a playlist on Youtube and I'm sharing just that one link. The description contains the current rank I have on the song on Steam leaderboards so I could compare ranks the next time I do this kind of a challenge (if it comes to that).

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Room One

Since I played The Room VR and read that many people liked the original mobile games I decided to give them a try. I thought I might actually like them since I liked the VR version. The truth is, I got very upset starting the beginning of chapter 2 and that feeling lasted till the end of the game.

The Room is supposedly a puzzle game but it is more of a click and drag adventure game minus the story of an adventure game. You are in a room with a strange object in front of you and you have to do something with it in order to get another clue which will lead you to (surprise) another object. Often you have to find something you can either press or move and well the easiest way to do this is to simply click around. Then you solve a spatial puzzle usually meaning matching some symbols or finding the right angle to form a symbol out of scattered lines in the air. As reward for solving it you will obtain an object. You need to find where it fits and the whole thing repeats. What I want to say is that you don't need to spend a second trying to actually think how to solve anything. Logic is something you don't need in this game.

Many people in their The Room VR reviews were noting that the mobile games were more intricate. I can't say I agree with that but there is one thing the Room VR doesn't have. In the mobile games you have to work with objects in your inventory be it keys or items you can open somehow. You have to observe which objects you can interact with. If you find where the key is supposed to fit you will be shown how the key is supposed to look so there no need to scratch your head trying to figure it out on your own. You also need to alternate between objects more often than in the VR game.

Controls for this game are not ideal. That's not all unfortunately, the input is also very slow. You need to zoom in on the puzzle device you want to solve and then zoom in on what you want to interact with. Since you will need to alternate between two areas it means zooming out and zooming in quite often and it takes forever. The transition between everything just takes a long time. I'm willing to accept looking at nice slow animations of something happening but not at the zoom in/out transitions. Since many of the puzzles are about finding the right view of something it adds to the frustration you might have. I knew exactly what kind of symbol I'd see and under what angle I should see it but managing to get that view on my screen was very frustrating (don't get me started on some orbs that you needed to put in a correct position). Unscrewing a screw or rotating a key was tedious. Since the input itself feels really slow I often did something and thought that it didn't register so I restarted. This led to many items going back to my inventory or a text popping up because I clicked on something and it gave me a really 'clever' hint.

The music is nice but repetitive. The sound of a text popping up is tearing my ears and I often don't even manage to read the text because I already clicked on something else. So I either accidentally click again to hear/see the pop up or it disappears. The constant hints that are trying to get your attention were very distracting and I'm not sure if you can turn them off. I sometimes clicked on them just to get rid of them and I have to say that they are just stating something obvious (on the other hand it's probably difficult to give a hint about something like this).

The atmosphere and graphics are nice. While I can enjoy nice atmospheric games I still play games primarily for their content and game play. This game failed in every aspect but this one.

The game was also crashing for me and tried to run at some strange resolution.

Verdict:
The Room is not a puzzle game, it is a test of patience. The game is about clicking around and finding what's clickable which gets repetitive very soon. There is no need to actually think. The game is easy and very short (thankfully), has no conclusion and in general has nothing to offer but nice visuals. The Room is probably good if you want to kill some time and turn your brain off while clicking around and enjoying the view. Otherwise I do not recommend this game to anyone.

S'Tsung (stsungjp @ Twitter)

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Cyberpunk 2077

I spent a whole day trying to type a coherent review but I seem not to be able to convey what I have in mind. I wanted to write a review that shows that the game is not bad after reading many negative reviews and people talking how much trash this game is. The game itself is not bad if you are fine with following a linear main story and several side quests. In terms of a rating I'd give it a 7 out of 10 even though I enjoy the game way more than I expected. I was hooked from the beginning and after I changed my perspective about the game and not expect an RPG game but instead a story-driven immersion I enjoyed it even more. After 60 hours or so though the negatives started surfacing. What I just ignored at first started to be a nuisance. On the other hand you don't really need to put up much with the bad things - that can be a bad thing too because it is an indicator that these could have been created or balanced better. When nearing 100 hours though I started to enjoy all the bugs and could laugh when the game saved in a middle of a jump that would kill me no matter what.

At first I ran the game on a computer with slightly higher specs than the recommended ones. I had troubles even running the game. I downloaded it on a computer I use for VR which showed similar problems. After tweaking my Nvidia settings (using help of some rtx 2060 users complaining about not being able to run the game too) I managed to run it on both computers but stuck to the VR one that can run the game with ultra settings on.

The story is about V, a mercenary who for some unknown reason wants to become a legend in Night City. V by a series of misfortunes ends up with a biochip implanted in their head. It cannot be taken out and contains a copy of Johnny Silverhand's psyche which slowly eats V's psyche away. Johnny is a rockerboy who decided to fight against a megacorporation and blast it away 50 years ago.

V may come from different backgrounds (you choose at the beginning) but will still turn into the same person and personality. All you can do is stick with it and there is no way to deviate unless you commit a suicide along the way. Johnny is a total prick but if you befriend him, he'll gain more wisdom.

I enjoyed all the endings to some extent even though I felt pretty bad when going through some. I missed something in those endings though. I didn't feel like it had some kind of a meaning. Many games question humanity and what the future might be. You get to see what makes someone or something a human being and what the society can turn into. Here you are someone with predefined view on things and you can either just stay that way or betray your principle and join the 'bad guys'. And even if you'd logically chose this option deliberately, you probably wouldn't have chosen everything that comes with this outcome. This was a huge let down for me and I spent quite a while contemplating if this could have been done in a better way. I always liked cyberpunk settings but what I also liked about the dystopian future is that it showed where our culture and society can end up. In this kind of future though there were always people present that had still valued human values and virtue and tried to fight the megacorporations. Here gangs fight among each other and we don't see much of politics among the corporations, in fact there is only one megacorporation that is the center of this story - Arasaka.

What I think the game does well though is asking you how you value life and what makes you want to live and how and what would make you want to end your life and why. This is something people should give a thought and some of the decisions and what comes after will make the players think about this and that I find is a good thing as that will help the players understand other people's thought that might be either terminally ill or suicidal.

The Night City is a breathtaking world and I can't describe it with words. The lights, lighting and reflections are beautiful. Walking around and taking pictures is something I truly enjoyed. Exploring the city is great. If you want to do more than that though, you'll be disappointed. I expected to be able to talk to some NPCs but soon found out that it's totally useless to even try. They are pretty dumb, they have preset movements so they either walk their path, cover their head on the ground or run away from the scene disappearing after few meters into nothingness. Their clothes are mostly the same you can get yourself and it is often painful to look at them. You can have sex with a joytoy but the cutscene that follows could be better. I don't even mean in showing more of the actual sex but could be done in a way that makes you want to enjoy watching it.

Illegal activity is nothing to worry about. I expected that if you become wanted you'd be wanted for the rest of the game. NCPD just shows up next to you out of thin air when you do an illegal activity. Just go inside a building and it ends. They will also shoot you if you stand nearby without a reason.

One would also expect stealing would be a crime but no, you just loot anywhere under any NPC's nose and don't get noticed for it.

The game features vehicles you can acquire. You are forced to drive them sometimes. Driving a car seems bad to me. It is very easy to miss a turn since you can't even see it on the mini map in the upper right corner. The traffic is weird at best. If you get close to another car it will just stop. Even hitting a hydrant will stop you dead in your track. I tried my best but failed the driving jobs (not really but it was rather frustrating). Since you get so many vehicles at your disposal you could possibly customize them? It would be a nice feature. The cars you can purchase behave differently so you can find a car that will suit you.

There are series of jobs that affect how the the game will end. Those are long and they allow you to start a romance depending on the person's sexuality. I enjoyed these a lot, maybe even more than the main story. They are about forming a relationship be it a friendship or romance.

The combat is something I shouldn't omit since it is a big part of the game. You can finish most of the game by sneaking past enemies and hacking but the easiest way is to blast your way through. There are many ways how to fight. You can use your own fists, mantis blades (cyberware), melee weapons or ranged weapons. You have quite a choice from different groups of weapons and I stuck to tech precision rifles. The animations and sounds of the weapons and combat are nice and satisfying. Shooting is ok even without aiming, I didn't really aim at all at first until I started using a sniper rifle which needs more precision when shooting someone very far away.

The leveling system is nice but is rather boring. You have 5 attributes - Body, Reflexes, Tech, Calm and Intelligence. Each attribute might be doing something and getting you better stats but I didn't see much difference. Under each of these attributes you have several perk trees. They are mostly combat related with the exception of crafting and hacking. Crafting can be used to create anything if you have a blueprint and components for it. Both can be bought or looted (or created by crafting and disassembling). Quickhacking can be used to distract enemies, unhostile them, or make them explode. Can also be used to turn off cameras or turrets.

I put most points into tech which led me to having a character with 1399 armor and 400 DPS weapon since level 17 or so. Even on hard my character felt invincible and I did not even spend all my points. I look forward to leveling in games because of new abilities that are impactful. In this game though I'd finish the whole game without spending a point. Only once in the game that I felt that I either totally missed something (it was this) or my damage input had to be insane - when fighting Matilda, one of the bosses in the game. I dealt roughly 12k damage unloading one whole magazine into her head and this did not bring her down.

Cyberware mostly gives you higher stats. But there is cyberware that allows to slow down time which can help in combat. Berserk cyberware can also make you stronger in fight but you won't be able to hack. If you take a hacking route getting a good cyberdeck is needed. Augmenting legs is probably the only thing I felt was 'special' since you can jump higher or double jump.

The game is full of bugs. I play VR games and I got used to clipping, other visual bugs and movement not working as intended. Falling through a floor is something that won't surprise me in a VR game but here it surprised me. These kind of things shouldn't be happening. Since everything is scripted in a way you shouldn't deviate from that and thus should avoid bugs. You just walk through the Night City to suddenly slip on a bag of trash flatlining. You headshot an enemy, their head exploding but the body still walks around and talks. NPCs t-posing. That's not all. While these are mostly 'visual' bugs and break the immersion there are also bugs that break the game in a way. I couldn't loot for quite some time and I couldn't see the location of the loots. When I finally could pick up items they were all above my level. My bought perks didn't work. There were jobs that I couldn't finish. I had to restart even the main story several times because either one of the NPCs got stuck or because the next step simply didn't trigger. Not only I lost some legendaries I got on my way, but I had to restart a relatively long job again.

Verdict:
Cyberpunk 2077 offers an immersive cyberpunk story and a great world - Night City - to explore. The story and characters are well written. They are well voiced and acted. The graphics is nice even though I wouldn't call it next gen, it would have been 8 years ago. Sound is great, both the music and sound effects. Many side missions that you can complete are really good, some are just fun and some are repetitive. The game play itself is good even though if you are more of a hardcore gamer you might find it lacking in many aspects since the game doesn't bring anything new and no matter what play style you will choose it will feel lacking. You might even question why there is the possibility to mod weapons when it practically does nothing? That goes to perks and leveling too. The game is buggy but many got fixed already. Still some bugs will make it impossible for you to proceed and you might need to replay, see if it lets you continue. The game seems to have performance issues. The recommended specs are more like minimum ones. It might be worth waiting till CDPR fixes all the issues and maybe even changes/adds some content. 7/10

S'Tsung (stsungjp @ Twitter)