Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Until You Fall

When I heard the name of a game named Until You Fall I had no idea what kind of a game to envision. If it weren't a VR title I might have actually figured it out. The thing is, Until You Fall is a rogue-like game. Now the name makes sense! After you put on your headset and start the game you will become an unnamed last remaining rune knight who is the only one who can fight the horrors that ran over Rokar, once a magically advanced civilization. Equipped with one or two melee weapons, you can cast spells, dodge attacks, and hack and slash through magic monsters until you fall or after you defeat all the enemies and successfully run through the available campaign. Since this is a rogue-like game you are more likely to die many, many times before you defeat the final boss. The run consists of enclosed relatively small areas that are connected to each other. After you defeat a batch of randomly generated number of enemies in each area you will be allowed to pick a reward that will last for the remainder of the run. You can upgrade your weapons with abilities or you can upgrade your own abilities, or you can recover health or gain additional health. The last possible reward is Aether, a magical substance that works as a currency in the game. After you die, you appear in a hub where you can spend the Aether and let a runesmith forge you new weapons or spells or you can also let her upgrade them. The upgrades done by the runesmith are permanent. The weapons gain levels, their stats increase, their abilities get better. They also have a special ability that needs to be charged and then it can be used.

The actual combat is more of an arcade experience rather than mindlessly hacking and slashing at virtual enemies. There are two ways how to damage your foes. You can either hit them when they do not block which will slowly chip away some of their shield 'life' or you can block their attacks to destroy their shields for a while and then unleash a deadly combo that will deal huge amounts of health damage, the wider the attack the more damage. In order to combo off you need to align the attack with a line that will show up. After your maximum combo attacks end the enemy will become invulnerable for a while and will start attacking again. Before a foe attacks a blue bar will show up where the attack will land and it will start filling up with color. When it fills up the attack will land and will hit you unless you put one of your weapons there to block. Some attacks are slow but some are fast and can also come at you in quick succession. There are other attacks that will require you to dodge in a given direction, so you will need to be prepared to dive or tilt (or step out of range). You also have the ability to dash in any direction. You can either use this to avoid AoE, attacks with bigger reach or ranged attacks. You can also use this as an attack because it deals guard damage and can help you break the shield faster. There is a limit to how many times you can use it, but it replenishes quite fast. You can decide how to use this kind of an ability and upgrade it in a way that suits you. Similarly you can choose and upgrade the weapons you'll use in combat. The lighter the weapon the faster it moves. A dagger or rapier will simply follow the movement of your controller or tracker and thus are great for blocking but heavier weapons like a mace or axe will lag behind but can deal huge amounts of damage. Pretty cool feature for a VR game.

First few runs you might be a bit lost about how the game works. You will have to figure out the pace of the combat, when you can and can't attack (at some point enemies are invulnerable), and what weapon combination you want to use and which temporary upgrades will be the best for that combination. At first you might just want to go as far as possible just grabbing aether, buying all the weapons and testing them out (and upgrading those you want to use).

The key of survival is fighting enemies one by one or in smaller groups. When you fight one foe another might come and start attacking. You might see a exclamation mark show up and then hear the attack so you can turn after that sound, block the attack, and continue fighting either of the enemies you battle.

The world of Rokar is a very colorful place with neon glowing flora, magic and crystals. While it gets darker and darker the further you get it still has a great contrast. The particles, special effects and atmospheric effects make it feel even vibrant. The soundtrack suits the pace of the game and makes you want to stay active hacking and slashing at enemies to the rhythm of the songs. Sound effects are great and the spatial sound will help you orient in battle without the need to constantly look around, being afraid of an incoming attack.

The game can be played seated even though I wouldn't recommend it if you can stand on your feet. While you don't need to move around physically (you can use thumbsticks for that) it is often better to move in real life than to fiddle with the game's locomotion following your headset in the middle of a battle.

The locomotion and turning is the only downside of the game even though you may not need this that much while you play the game.

Until You Fall is very polished VR game that allows you to choose the way you will fight and offers you an environment in which you can become better and explore everything the game offers. It shows that there is a fun and efficient way how to approach melee combat in VR games. There is depth, complexity and freedom - you can just simply mindlessly run into the fray or carefuly study the game mechanics and enemy attacks first. The game has great visuals, effects, sound and music, quality of life features and great menu. It is a great game and experience.

Thank you for reading,

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Talos Principle

The Talos Principle is a puzzle game with a story that asks philosophical questions about being human, life, death and eternal life.

You will wake up in a garden and hear the words of Elohim, god-like creature claiming to have created you, guiding you one of his children to a temple and telling you to pass different kind of tests.

You will learn that you should be collecting Sigils to progress. Each of these is at the end of a spatial puzzle. Each of the puzzles is taking place in a closed area that can often feel like a labyrinth. You will have to deal with forcefields, sentinels (some explode when you walk closer to them), laser guns, closed door etc. For that you can use one or more tools you will get on your journey. For example, one tool will allow you to redirect laser beams, other will disable a forcefield or stop a sentinel in its track. There is also a cube that you can use in various ways (climb, or use to put pressure on something) and a fan that allows you to get to difficult to access places for example. One of the weirdest tools is a recording device (when you need two people to solve the puzzle).

The Sigils you will be collecting have a form of a tetrimino and are used to unlock doors. You will unlock a way to other very distinct worlds. In each world there is a hub from which there are doors leading to other parts of that one world. There you have the individual puzzles rewarding you with the Sigils. The Sigils have different colors and the difficulty of the puzzles is also reflected in that. You will start with collecting Green and Yellow Sigils mostly and these puzzles are quite easy. The green ones are good introductory puzzles, yellow ones are about testing what you learned from the green ones. In the later stages of the game all you will be collecting are red tetriminos and it is where it starts to get complicated. While exploring the worlds and solving puzzles you might come across golden stars. Those you can also collect and will take you through a hidden door to other puzzles. In order to get a golden star you will have to think outside of the individual puzzles, you will often need tools from different puzzles. There are different ways how to solve these and are very fun. Actually sometimes you won't even see the star itself, you will just encounter something that's not supposed to be there and after you get there you will discover a star. All the puzzles are very satisfying to solve and the star challenges were really brilliant and often breathtaking. The names of the puzzles are something to pay attention to, especially if you get stuck because they will give you a hint.

One of the great things is also the fact that you don't need to do any of the puzzles in a certain order but you do need to collect specific tetriminos and certain amount of stars in order to open doors. It gives you freedom and also won't frustrate you if you get stuck. You can just go do different puzzles and come back (to realize how simple the solution was). All the puzzles are very well designed and while some need you to stack objects in a certain way you will mostly be thinking about how to effectively use the tools at your disposal since you've got a limited amount which is lower than the number of obstacles.

While exploring you will encounter QR messages from other children, audio logs, and (beeping) terminals. This is where the story part of the game takes places. When you hear a beeping sound and go closer you will discover a terminal on which you can read messages and articles from a corrupted archive and this way you will learn that something went terribly wrong. You will start asking yourself questions and later you will start a conversation with conscious artificial intelligence. It is here where most of the philosophical questions will be asked. This being will start questioning you and you will have to think hard how to answer. Your point of view will then be questioned and it is up to you whether you change your mind or not. The thing is, you are a robot while you think you are a human being, but are you?

You will start to think about mythology, eternal life, God, technology and (trans)humanity. Maybe you'll start pondering about your own future and the future of today's society. You will always be given a lot of time to ponder about all these questions and doing puzzles in the meantime. When you hear the next beep, you will most probably be ready for next encounter.

The conscious in the computer system will start making you doubt your creator - Elohim. You will most probably start questioning Elohim (hopefully because than the game will end prematurely) and start wondering what's at the top of the Tower which he forbid you to visit and will remind you of it whenever you start climbing up. If you decide to climb the tower you will learn even more and will still be able to decide what the outcome of the game will be.

I'm not entirely sure how to write about all that is going on in the game, I'm not that good of a writer. The experience is very unique and personal. The story is very deep, poses very important questions and everything is very well written. In all that there is even room for humor.

Even though I wanted to end the review here, I should also comment on graphics and sound. The game is very beautiful. The environments are large and I spent hours just walking around enjoying the view, the atmosferical effects and even tried to reach different places to see the environment from different point of views. This sometimes resulted in me stumbling upon a golden star. I had no problems with performance in VR and enjoyed a crystal clear and sharp textures all the time no matter how fast I moved or how close I was a wall. I was actually surprised how well the game looks on Rift because many games don't that great compared to Index. I would have never guessed this game is from 2014. Music and sound is excellent. Music is a delight and I'd just stand on the beach, watch the setting sun and listen to the music. The little voice acting there is, is impeccable - in terms of it makes you feel emotions and not many games I played achieved that.

I bought this game for the puzzles but very soon realized that it is not about the puzzles. While the game can be played just as a puzzle game, and very good one, you will miss a lot if you ignore the story. The story is philosophical, thought-provoking, well written. The game has a very good learning curve, is also well structured and offers even more challenging puzzles to hardcore players. The game environments are distinct, beautiful, breathtaking and simply serene. The music is soothing for the soul. In overall it is a perfect game.

Thanks for reading

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Room Three

The first The Room game I played was the VR title named The Room: Dark Matter. I enjoyed the game very much (review here) and that is why I decided to buy the previous games that existed at the time. After playing The Room One I was very disappointed with it (review here) and was not sure if I'd play the following games. I suffered through The Room Two - too ambitious project Fireproof Games didn't seem to know what to do with - and then just gave up. 11 months later I decided to play the third game in the series. To my surprise the game was different than the previous two games.

The Room Three is a mix of point and click adventure and a puzzle game developed and published by Fireproof Games for PC in 2018, three years after its original iOS/Android release. The game is about still unnamed protagonist from the previous games who gets kidnapped and imprisoned by The Craftsman on an island everyone avoids. The protagonist's task is to prove himself to the Craftsman and that is how the adventure begins. What you need to do is power up rooms or buildings, open a hidden door and solve a series of puzzles to get a pyramid. After collecting all the pyramids you are allowed to go to the final stage of the game and reach one of the several endings. While on your adventure or rather escape you learn more about the mystery about the Null - mysterious alien creatures/energy - through notes left by the Craftsman and his prisoner.

The Room Three is different compared to the previous two games mainly because the game takes place in one building complex where you have to walk around and backtrack to find and solve puzzles. For me it breathed more life into the game and gave me a sense of immersion that I didn't have in the previous games. The environments are beautiful and walking around would be simply wonderful if you could do that, instead there is one place you will simply appear after a rather long animation of getting there. The game is still linear and won't allow you to roam freely most of the time while you are 'locked in' a chapter. You are actually locked in a certain part and can't leave until you finish the chapter. After finishing the game for the first time you will be able to 'Change your fate'. You will be back in the old manor and you can try to walk around and solve certain puzzles to reach 3 more different endings. This time the objects you are looking for can be anywhere and can be used on something being totally elsewhere. Once you get all the needed objects you can go to the final stage of the game, solve the same puzzles over and over and get the different endings. In a way, we can be happy not to replay the whole game, but 'solving' the puzzles again certainly feels bad.

As for the puzzles, similarly to previous games, I wouldn't really call them puzzles. The game is more of a 'find an object, insert it into another object, move this and that, get a new object'. This time the order of puzzles is actually logical even though you still don't need to use your brain to solve them. As in the previous games you'll be clicking around, finding things that can be moved or pressed. If you played the previous games you won't need to click around that much since you might already look at a drawer from all angles in anticipation of a switch or a button at an unlikely place. When you get a new object you'll try to think where it could fit. I'd say the complexity went down in this game but I don't think it was a bad decision. The puzzles and menial tasks you have to do are not confusing which makes the experience good. Thanks to the eyepiece that shows hidden things you can also enter small places - see Alice in Wonderland - and thus operate some things from the inside. I liked this very much even though it wasn't as cool as in VR.

There are still hints in the game. If you get stuck you can click on a lit up question mark and get a hint. There might be more hints for one puzzle and there is a timer when the next one becomes available. There are no hints for puzzles needed to be solved for the alternate endings.

The graphics is beautiful. The textures are beautiful and seem to be of high resolution. Lighting is great. The only thing that's weird are the Null tentacles which seem to be rather low poly compared to other models and moving at half framerate. I haven't played the game on mobile but the PC version truly feels like a game meant for a computer unlike the previous games that tried to run in a mobile phone resolution and whatnot.

I can't comment on sound or music because I turned it off (due to certain sound effects irritating me in the previous games so much).

As for the controls it felt similarly awkward as in the previous games. If you can avoid playing this game with a mouse I recommend doing that - either a touch screen or tablet. On the other hand due to less creative and complex puzzles you don't need to be moving objects in a really strange way so you should not struggle as much as in the previous game.

The Room Three feels more like a PC adventure game rather than a mobile puzzle game. It is a point and click game and that's about it. The previous games focused solely on the puzzles, the first one on single objects, second one on various objects within a room. The Room Three takes it a step further which may not work that well for a mobile device but works on PC. On the other hand this game is very limited in terms of exploration and this way feels rather lacking. While many animations felt more smooth and faster than in previous games, the one most important animation - movement from one place to another - takes a very long time.
The graphics are way better and make the game a very enjoyable atmospheric experience (with several horror elements).
The controls are still as clunky as ever but the puzzles themselves require less object manipulation which results in less frustration. On the other hand the game is rather buggy and often there are certain layers of graphics that do not align and that make operating the game or solving puzzles more frustrating.
I finished the game in 6 hours including the alternate endings which makes it longer than its predecessors and provides more on the story as well.
I wouldn't recommend this game to anyone, but if mindlessly clicking is your thing you can give this game a try.

Thank you for reading

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Prince of Persia review and walkthrough

Prince of Persia is a platformer developed and published by Brøderbund in 1990. It is one of the first PC games I got to play and as such it was the game to teach me how to use the keyboard to control the prince, survive and eventually, many hours later, save the princess for the first time.

Most platformers I played around the time were rather action related. You were running around avoiding weapon projectiles, shooting enemies while trying to get from point A to point B often jumping across gaps, traps and moving platforms. When playing game like that you had first discover what is possible and what is not in terms of jumping, falling, avoiding or shooting. There was nothing that would hint that. It was up to you to figure that out by trial and error. I was pretty bad at this and I knew that spending money on these arcade games was a recipe for disaster.

Prince of Persia is a different kind of platformer. The game looks realistic compared to other games of the time, that is primarily because it is realistically animated. The intro shows Jaffar and a princess. The interaction between the two characters shows movement that made me see these characters as living people. I also enjoyed the colorful graphics and the rather unusual point of view in 2d platformer games. When the game begins we see prince being thrown into a dungeon. When he landed on the ground I realized that this character would walk, run, jump and fight like a human being - not a floating 2d sprite that hardly had any legs. I was right about it. The prince's moves were all animated. The animation felt real even though one would question the efficacy of the movements.

Starting in the depths of a dungeon, you need to find a sword first to defeat your first enemy and then go up to the highest level and save the princess. You have 60 minutes to beat the game. You'll be running around the level trying to find a way to another door leading up to another level. There will be gaps you'll need to jump across, blades you need to avoid, environmental puzzles to solve (usually just involving different platforms to step on or avoid), enemies to kill or avoid etc. The prince moves in a way human person would, meaning he can't just unrealistically far or high. He can make a step, walk, run, crouch, climb up or down, jump (over something), do a running jump. All these follow the same rules so knowing them you will need to figure out how to clear a level. The prince has 3 lives at the beginning of the game and there are potions that can be drank to either get additional life (hidden at places that won't take you closer to next level), cure a life or lose life (these are blue). The prince loses life when hit by a sword, or when he falls two floors down, or when a platform falls on his head. The prince will die when he falls lower than two floors, is stabbed in the back or gets caught in a deadly trap be it blades or something else. After dying the level restarts with the exception (level 3 where there is a checkpoint).

As for combat, the fighting is also more realistic than other arcade platformers. When prince gets near an enemy he draws his sword. The player can either attack, black or sheath the sword. Parrying is not necessary to use against most enemies but two Jaffar himself and one of his best guards. The enemies are harder and harder to beat and even have their own fighting style.

The game doesn't feature in-game music, just intro and outro music which I enjoyed. The sound effects are ok. At that time though, how many of us had sound cards that could actually produce good sound?

This game is a must play for any gamer. Prince of Persia is a game that started a new genre of games and set the bar quite high. The game has very good graphics and atmosphere. It has great animations that breathed life into the game. The gameplay is good, it requires some skill in controlling the prince but it is something anyone can learn to do. The level design is great and it forces you to explore while being wary of the remaining time since there is 60 minutes to complete the game.

For those that would find the game too difficult for some reason, you can type 'prince megahit' to run the game which will unlock cheats. Pressing + will give you more time, K will kill any enemies on screen, R will resurrect the prince etc.

Thanks for reading

Ren (stsungjp on Twitter)

Friday, October 1, 2021

Red Matter review and walkthrough

If I should describe Red Matter, then I would describe it as a first-person puzzle adventure game. Red Matter immerses you in a mysterious Cold War story that takes place on Rhea, Saturn's moon, and an abandoned Volgravian base.

Volgravia, is a soviet-like country, that was researching some kind of red matter on Rhea. You, an Atlantic Union agent, venture there and go to the now evacuated Volgravian base to find data about research that was left behind. While exploring the base you will start discovering dreadful clues about what happened. Volgravian language needs to be translated using a translator. Any cyrillic-looking text will be translated if you scan it. The scanner is a tool you will need to proceed in the game. Scanning and translating is something that makes the whole experience more immersive. You also have access to a flashlight and claw like hands on your suit which you will use to handle objects.

The immersion is not even broken by locomotion. The moon has lower gravity and you hop in your suit from place to place. This means that you can also hop quite high and reach places you wouldn't be able to on Earth. You can also hover in any direction or just walk around which I had the tendency to do the most and I had to remind myself that I was in virtual reality and not the real world. The speed can be adjusted which is good for people like me - who get motion sick. While in air (if there is any atmosphere?) you can just look around and enjoy the environment that is very well done.

While the game's graphics is nothing that would make us awestruck it is very good in making us feel like we are truly there. The design is simple but works very well and is perfect for the Volgravian base. Textures are of high quality and very good (and bump-y!). There's nice lighting and reflections. Nice is an understatement, it makes the game seem look realistic. Also there are many details, especially in the habitat section of the base. While some graphics elements feel a bit out of place it is mostly very coherent and atmospheric. There are more things that make you feel inside the game, there is a moment where you have to move slowly in order not to lose charged and unstable matter. Moving levers or opening door manually is something that feels like it needs physical effort. I enjoyed all these details.

Red matter has a mysterious story and many people could think about it as a horror story. VR seems to be the best for delivering horror stories but this game shows how a story can be told without the need of jump scares, brutal violence, or hide and seek. There is a tension that will be getting higher and higher during the game and it can spook some people. The story is mainly told through objects you find, or rather you get clues about what happened. It is up to you to divine what actually happened. You'll also learn more about the crew making the story even more real. The story also has plot twists and will make you think about what was possibly going on all the time and rethink all this once again when you reach the final stage of the game. This is something I did not expect from a short VR game.

The sound is very well done and it will certainly make the tension even higher. A subtle strange sound can get some people startled. There were times I wished to turn around and run away or at least grab a crowbar. The thing is, there are no weapons in the game and thus no combat. No need to run away or fight which makes this game ideal for everyone.

The puzzles are not some out of place puzzles but are part of the tasks you are supposed to do. Sometimes they are very straightforward - just read instruction and follow them, but sometimes there are things you need to figure out on your own. They won't make you feel like you are doing something totally meaningless in order to advance in the game unlike some other games.

There is one thing that was breaking my immersion and that was the grid on which you could teleport. The game is also rather short. It took me less than 2 hours and I was scanning every object I encountered and listened to everything while also taking screenshots, enjoying the environments, models and textures.

Red Matter is a short story driven game that will make you experience something that feels very real even though it takes place in an alternative universe and abandoned space outpost. The immersion is where the game shines and for that alone I would recommend the game to anyone who wants to have a good VR experience. If you have Quest and want to show how a good game can look like or feel this is the game to play.

Ren (you can follow me @stsungjp on Twitter)