Morphite review

It’s No ‘No Man’s Sky’, but it doesn’t need to be.

Morphite is Blowfish Studios’ mobile-come-console exploration game, which puts you in the shoes of Myrah, a girl who explores the galaxy, against her mentor’s wishes, in search of the titular Morphite; an item with immense power, both creative and destructive. It also has links to Myrah’s past. The expositional mouthpiece is Kitcat, a robotic cat. Kitcat is the show stealer, no doubts.

In Morphite you’ll explore dozens of planets, with each acting like a small Metroidvania environment in which you’ll shoot monsters and solve puzzles to obtain key items and progress the story. As you play, you’ll discover new ways to upgrade both Myrah and her ship – which criminally doesn’t have a name. Upgrading is done mainly via vendors and space stations. Upgrading your armour is a must, for a while at least, as it grants access to new planets; those that are too hot or cold are restricted at first. Upgrades require currency, these chunks are obtained via looting chests, killing monsters and destroying other objects on the surfaces of the worlds you explore. The chunks are complimented with resources which are obtained by picking harvesting mineral nodes found scattered around the various landscapes on the numerous planets you’ll find yourself visiting.

You have a fair few gadgets at your disposal, from grenades to a robo-pet. These tools will allow you to approach each location with a degree of freedom; you can choose to just go in phasers-a-blazing, killing any wildlife in your way, or you could – if you upgraded your shields and/or scanner – tank the damage from hostile animals and scan them for valuable data. This data can then be sold to upgrade your items further.

This circular approach sums up Morphite nicely, as, like a circle, Morphite doesn’t stray from the formula it establishes very early on. This isn’t a necessarily bad thing, as we have to remember that Blowfish made Morphite as a mobile title first, with console following.

As I stated at the beginning – It’s No No Man’s Sky, but it doesn’t need to be.

Thanks to Xbox and Crescent Moon Games for supporting TiX

Ruiner review

I’ve bleated on loads of times now about how much I like a good, fast-paced, twin stick shooters with loads of power-ups, explosions and general chaos. When I saw Ruiner for the first time I was hyped because it appeared to be everything I look for in a substantial twin-stick adventure. I was wrong though, because Ruiner is not just a twin stick controlled action game, it’s more than that, a lot more.

Ruiner is brought to us by Reikon Games, who are based in Poland and founded back in 2014. Their credentials are very impressive, they’ve worked on games such as The Witcher 1 – 3, Dead Island and also Dying Light, that’s some impressive CV right there.

Ruiner is a top-down action game with hints of Cyber Punk and Anime all thrown into one, adult-themed combination of brutality and mayhem. The art style for the game is amazing and utilises a comic book style approach. Everything seems to be a variation of red even down to the lighting, I suppose it represents blood or something.

You start off with a nice and concise tutorial explaining how to operate the protagonist who, by the way, is just a psychotic killer on a mission to find his brother and kill the boss. The first few minutes pretty much sums up what Ruiner is all about and it’s clear that your character is insane. He wears a face mask that has his intentions written on the front, this changes depending on the situation but for the most part it says ‘kill’ on it. The story isn’t deep or that interesting to be fair, so I won’t bother you with all that, when all is said and done it’s the action we all want, right?

The control system is pretty easy to get to grips with and you will have to use everything in order to get by. There is a mixture of dashes, slashes and shooting to be done and mastered in order to get through because, on the whole, this game is not easy, good but not easy. You have a basic load-out of a small handgun and a piece of piping for the melee kills. Enemies do drop weapons you can readily collect, however, these have a limited amount of ammo and you quickly return to your basic gun.

As with just about every game nowadays there is an XP system called Karma, you collect Karma by completing bounties and missions but also by breaking open boxes etc. placed around each level. When you level up you’re granted skill points and the ability to place them and take them away as you see fit, allowing to build a character that best suits you. There is the chance to perform combos, however, the enemies don’t come fast enough to be able to create spectacular ones, with that said though the slow-motion effect makes you look like a complete badass and gives you that sense that you’re untouchable. When I say untouchable that’s just for that moment, because as I said, Ruiner is not easy and the death animation is something you’ll soon become used to, like it or not.

There are however, sometimes when you think you’re being hard done by, because on occasion I wandered into the next area only to be met by a trap that completely annihilated me. I basically stood no chance. It’s not all Dark Souls difficulty though, you get the odd lifeline. At various points Gif’s appear that are little floating robots and they drop health, energy and sometimes the odd weapon, indeed a welcome sight on a difficult sub-boss.

Like all twin-stick shooters there is a certain point where you lose track of what’s happening down to how much is happening on-screen, this goes as well for Ruiner. At times I found myself moonwalking into an enemy with my shield facing the wrong way, this is not a gripe but more a warning to keep a sharp eye because you need to move or you’re dead, so make sure you move in the right direction. Ruiner has a very healthy amount of stuff to do, the main game is short in comparison to most but you can jump in and out as you please, especially if the pressure gets a little too much for you. I’m a big fan of games where you can jump in and out for 10 minutes or an hour depending on your mood, Ruiner provides just that and you can still make good progress.

Ruiner is a must, I strongly recommend if this genre takes your fancy. My twin stick biased opinion aside, Ruiner offers the right amount of difficulty mixed with the right amount of mature brutality and a sprinkling of RPG mechanics that makes for the most insane, psychopathic cake you can imagine. Ruiner also has a soundtrack that complements it superbly; there’s a techy underground experimental sense behind the music that fits perfect but at times can get a bit over powering, especially if you’re dying a lot.

Thanks to Reikon and Xbox for supporting TiX

Dead Alliance Review

Dead Alliance is one of those games where I was really excited about playing it, as we all know I’m a bit of a sucker for some hype. I watched a few videos but stayed away from reviews just in case it swayed my opinion somewhat. So did Dead Alliance live up to my expectations? Read on and see.

The short answer is no, it didn’t, not by any stretch of the imagination, but in the interest of fairness, I will tell you why. Dead Alliance is brought to us by Illfonic and Published by Maximum Games. To give you some idea of what they’re all about Illfonic bought us Friday the 13th, which incidentally is a bit of a smash on PC. Maximum Games gave us The Surge also a smash, I think you’ll agree two spot on games. Just check out my The Surge review, I loved that game. Dead Alliance sits somewhere way way lower than those two classics, when I mean low I mean like, sewer low.

The story is quite straightforward, a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies and the only remaining safe zones are military bases and you have to kill the zombies as well as the opposing team. The game brings elements of a MOBA into an FPS action shooter, which sounds amazing right? I think so, hence the reason I was so excited to play it.

A twist of irony was in one the trailers I watched and a warning appeared at the start stating that the video did not represent the final quality of the game. Well, it certainly doesn’t, in fact, the game is worse, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen before. Dead Alliance is basically broken mess. One thing I really didn’t like was the control scheme, it uses the basic FPS layout but the movement is inaccurate and often causes you to completely miss your target, you make a slight adjustment to your aim and completely miss again. I would normally put that down to my skill, however, I played with the settings and it made little to no difference at all. The constant missing and hits not registering on targets made for quite a frustrating first few minutes.

Graphically the game is poor too, the appalling framerate issues did not help towards the inaccurate firing at the enemy. The best way I can describe it trying to play a triple-A title on a machine that isn’t designed to run it, you get the same glitchy gameplay and none of the visuals that you should have or are used to from modern games.  Along with the graphical atrocity comes the connection issues too, connecting to a multiplayer game take a few attempts and quickly became boring.

There are basically a few game modes you can play, these aren’t anything different from most online games though and to be honest aren’t implemented very well in this at all. The twist in the multiplayer tale is that there are zombies strolling around the map, I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with this idea in one hand I quite like it but on the other, it got quite annoying especially when the opposing team were winning and you had to knuckle down. You can, however, use the zombies to your advantage by using tactical weaponry to lure them into tight spots etc. There are lots of weapons and load outs to choose from which is nice, you earn money to buy new ones etc etc.

An interesting selling point though is if multiplayer is your thing. You can buy the game as a standalone multiplayer experience. If you like just the single player aspect then you can buy that on its own too, you then have the freedom to upgrade to the full package from either version. Be warned though, there is no campaign and the single player is basically multiplayer but with bots… pointless really.

This has basically been a slating hasn’t it? To be honest with good reason. I was fortunate enough to have a review code for the game but this game is full priced and I would be pretty angry if I’d have been greeted with these issues after spending 30 notes on an unfinished game. Let’s face it though it’s not the first time this has happened is it? I’m looking at you Destiny. I have no doubt in my mind that with a hefty update the main issues could be fixed and maybe that’s in the pipeline but for now as it is I would say Dead Alliance is pretty unplayable. Time to go back to Destiny 2 for a while.

Thanks to Maximun Games and Xbox for supporting TiX

Killing Floor 2 review

Killing floor 2 has already been out for quite some time on the PC and the PlayStation 4 but has had a recent release on the Xbox One, and with the promise of Xbox One X enhancements coming this November the future is certainly bright, and in 4k.

So what is Killing Floor 2? Well, it’s a first-person shooter where you and up to five other players face hordes of zombies and monsters in a bid to survive each wave. In between each wave you can spend some cash that you have accumulated on bigger and better weapons that you will inevitably need to survive the next wave of the undead and genetically engineered monsters, referred to in the game as Zeds. There is no real story to the game, only that a company called Horzine have created monsters and it’s up to everyone to clean up their mess. Of course, if there is no real story then there is no campaign to play through, so if you’re looking for a good story and a campaign then Killing Floor 2 is not for you.

There are 10 classes to choose from, confusingly they are called perks in the game, they are: Berserker, Commando, Demolitionist, Field Medic, Firebug, Gunslinger, Sharpshooter, Support, Survivalist, and S.W.A.T. You can level each one making the fight on the more difficult levels that little bit easier to complete. There are 11 different monsters for you to face ranging from simple one shot zombies to more difficult brutes with weapons of their own that charge you and pummel you. At the end of each level, there is a boss to fight too, these offer their own challenges and aren’t always easy to overcome. There are only two bosses that you will face, a sadist Doctor in a metal suit and an ex-employee of Horzine. Both bosses will easily wipe out the spray and pray style players so working as a team and having each other’s back is really important. Both the waves and boss battles need to be played tactically, especially as you progress through the more difficult stages.

There is a versus mode which is pretty much exactly what the Left 4 Dead versus mode was, one team with guns the other are monsters with abilities. To be honest, for me the game isn’t about the versus mode it’s about completing the waves of Zeds and levelling each class. Initially, the versus mode died a bit of a nasty death on the PC but with the introduction of the PS4 version and now the Xbox One I can see it making a small come back.

There are loads of different maps, some set in the mean streets to some in the dirty depths of a city setting. Each level looks pretty good, with Killing Floor 2 being built on a modified version of the Unreal Engine 3, but there is a noticeable difference between it’s quality and lighting when compared to modern titles running on more contemporary engines, but Killing Floor 2 does play very nice and very smooth. It would have been nice to have interactive environments to modify your path or create bottles necks for the Zeds but each stage has an area where you can dig in and wait for the inevitable onslaught anyway so moving stuff may not be the best idea, still it would be nice to blow stuff up.

Sound wise Killing Floor 2 ticks numerous boxes. Musically it fits perfectly with tracks from Deathcore bands such as Impending Doom and Living Sacrifice. It’s right up my street. There is some annoying voice acting though, but that can be forgiven. Killing Floor 2 really works for me because it’s a game you can jump into, have a quick blast and leave, and still make progress with levelling up the classes. That being said though it’s going to take a long time to max out everything that’s available. Killing Floor 2 also offers quite a lot in terms of cosmetics for your character, however, it doesn’t really make any difference to the game but still something worth working towards. Some cosmetics, however, are just down right bizarre!

Overall Killing Floor 2 is not a massive game and by no means something that will make your jaw drop but it is a game that will have you going back for more when you have a spare couple of hours and allowing you to thrash out and cause utter carnage. I do feel though, that despite the support from developers Tripwire Interactive moving on into the next gen of consoles, Killing Floor 2 does have a shelf life, unless of course they come up with something that will keep players hooked for a long time to come. For their sake I hope they do.

For some game play and the video review check it out below:

Thank you to Tripwire and Xbox for supporting TiX

Destiny 2 review

Here it is, at long last, the Destiny 2 review from TiX! I’d apologise for it taking so long, but for those of you who have ever played Destiny or a game like it, you’ll know it can’t be summed up so quick – not whilst also keeping family and other work in order! We settled on doing something a little different for this review, a round-table of sorts. I’d like to thank Dave, Cat and Ady for being my fireteam on this review.
So, without any more delay, let us transmat right to it!
Did you play Destiny 1, if so, what class did you play and did you continue that character in Destiny 2?

Ady

The original Destiny was one of the games that I have put the most hours into, ever. It’s up there with Skyrim and the Fallout games of the world. I didn’t think that would be the case when I started, as like most people after the campaign was completed I was unsure if the endgame content would keep me hooked. Then, as read in my previous article, I discovered the raid and the strikes, and just how much fun the co-op PvE experience was, and I was smitten! I played as a Warlock in Destiny 1, and although I started Destiny 2 as that character to experience the graphical history, I have now rerolled and started as a Titan, as the Striker class looked too good!

Cat

Yes, I played lots of D1, over 1000 hours and did pretty much everything except go to the Lighthouse. I have indeed continued on my original character, an Exo Titan, but not sure if I’ll continue on my original Warlock and Hunter yet, as I would like to see the new customisation options

Dave

As much as I wanted to like Destiny the first-time round, for various reasons, we just didn’t hit it off. I played loads of the beta with Rich, had a blast and pre-ordered almost immediately.After about a week of playing though I struggled to enjoy it at all, we didn’t have much of a fire team together and to be honest I got pretty bored of it!

I was a Titan then and I’ve stuck with a Titan this time around, it compliments my style of play perfectly so there was little reason for me to change, I may start a second class, but that will all depend on time

John

I most certainly did, though I dipped out from time-to-time, returning when new waves of content were launched. I played a Warlock, almost exclusively, after trying the Titan and Hunter during the beta phases of Destiny 1. I carried over all three characters and started out with my Warlock once again. I just feel there is something magical about the Warlock class – no, not just the self-resurrection overpowered magic – that I never felt with Titan or Hunter. At least in Destiny 1.

How was the story?

Ady

Miles better than the original, which wasn’t difficult. Bungie benefitted from having already told the backstory of the Destiny universe, so they could crack on with a tight, cohesive narrative, with a great villain. I wasn’t convinced with the final boss battle, as I had more difficulty getting past the dogs at the start of that final level! Sometimes I had to stop and just take in the world that was going on around your guardian, especially in the later levels. It introduced the vanguards as well-rounded characters which were a huge improvement!

Cat

Destiny 2’s story was excellent… The general experience was much better than Destiny 1, with an easy to follow plot. Including lore within the game was a great touch. I’m interested to see if they can get as much lore into the game as the previous Grimoire system though

Dave

I really enjoyed the story, as a big Halo fan I’ve always enjoyed Bungie’s style of storytelling and unlike Destiny, there was more story in the beta than the whole of the last game! There are some fantastic set pieces in the game and I really enjoyed meeting the different characters during my playthrough.

John

Simply put. Grand. However, this is coming off the back of Destiny 1. The same game which didn’t have time to explain what it didn’t have time to explain – maybe due to the mid-cycle story reboot? As a standalone title, the story of Destiny 2 was above average, with a feeling of a soft reboot. Not so much the universe of Destiny, but the way that the story was going to be delivered to us, the players. No more clamouring around forums, Reddit and the like, looking for answers on who this person is, what the motivation for their actions was. Which, as someone with a little less time on his hands now, is a blessing. However, with the knowledge of knowing I’ll no longer get that random bit of lore from achieving X number of kills, wins or other milestones, I can’t help but feel I have to wait until December for my next fix.

At least there are Cayde’s trinkets to gather from his weekly chests. Right?

How was the Combat/class mechanics? And how did they differ from D1?

Ady

No need to fix something that wasn’t broken!  The gun mechanics in D1 was one of the best you’ll ever get. I wasn’t sure about the change to weapon classes, with Kinetic, Energy and Power all separate, but once you get used to it then it is fine. I’m not too happy with Sniper moving to Power as there’s never enough ammo for it to make it really usable. I went through most of the campaign without really using the Power weapons so there is definitely a balancing issue to be addressed.

Cat

Everything felt a little faster… But overall, the same solid gunplay from D1 is still there… The Titan (I haven’t played the others yet) felt more like the tank it should be. The new Sentinel sub-class is a lot of fun, and I can see myself becoming a Sentinel main in D2.

Dave

If there is one thing Bungie almost always get right, it’s their combat mechanics every weapon feels meaty and the supercharge powers all feel unique, giving me the chance to be flexible with my approach.

John

The combat is refined. Changes to ability types across the board, such as bringing all melee attacks to the same attack point – no more Warlock ranged-melee attacks, as an example. I felt challenged in some areas, and heard/read that others were, too. This felt good, knowing that all classes – at least in PvE – were on an even keel.

The sweeping changes to subclasses, on the other hand, didn’t and still doesn’t feel quite right. Gone are the choices of taking option 3 from line A, mixing it with option 5 from line E. It’s all or nothing from two very split hubs, with each of the two hubs feeling like they are missing the prefix of PvP and PvE. Here is hoping that in future content drops, namely DLC, the freedom of Destiny 1’s talent trees returns in some form.

Did the game feel empty post-campaign? Do you feel there is the content to keep you returning on a regular basis until more content is released?

Ady

So, at the time of writing, I have only just finished the campaign and reached level 20, with my Titan at power level 210. Looking at the map there are still quests, strikes, the raid and other activities on the maps that I haven’t even touched yet. And apart from the main campaign, I haven’t even started to explore Titan, Nessus or IO. Empty? I feel more overwhelmed than empty! Just worried about where the time will come from to enable me to put enough hours in!

Cat

Initially, I felt there was enough to do, but now I’m hitting the higher Power levels (currently 271) I’m struggling as a solo player. I’ve yet had the time to hit the strike or crucible playlists, however. I do really like the Adventures though and feel that Patrol has had the facelift it needed. As someone who spent 11 days in-game time in Patrol in D1, I’m happy.

Dave

I was worried about this at first but in fact, the game really only begins after the campaign in reality. There is just so much to do, which is great for all types of players, casual and hardcore.

Of course, then there is the loot, it’s great, isn’t it? There is something exciting about Legendary items dropping, or picking up engrams, not knowing what you are going to get. I almost obsessed with it now, I’ve spent way too long sorting my shaders for my guardian, he looks pretty badass at the moment.

Whether you are taking part in Public Events, the Crucible, Nightfall’s or Strikes there appears to be something for everyone. I have less time free than the majority of my fireteam, so over time I’ll be swimming in content.

John

As someone who had ample time to play at release – I had 4 days off – I felt I’d be drowning in content for a good month, as I could only put in a few hours per day after that initial burst. I was wrong. Nearly 3 weeks removed, I haven’t logged in for 2 days to do the daily milestone. Why? Because without the powerful engrams from the weekly activities, I get little to no sense of progression.

Yes, I have the raid to complete, but I am sticking by the TiX clan – for better or worse! Love you guys. So, once all other activities are complete, I sit at a power level – nearly wrote light level – that won’t move upwards until reset. There are no weapon rolls, so I can’t go after a set weapon and hope for an uber roll. No set strikes to run for specific gear, and sadly I haven’t been able to run Trials with the clan yet, due to other commitments.

All this being said, there IS a healthy amount of content for players that just want to play and play and play. It most certainly does not feel empty, just more like I am on a motorway without an offramp in view. 

A general overview of your time with Destiny 2.

Ady

Loved it! Great campaign, the gun mechanics are as good as D1, and the Titan shield is incredibly fun to use.

Cat

So far I’m really enjoying Destiny 2 and can’t wait to get into the true end-game content. I’m looking forward to trying the new raid with my clanmates and to see what else Bungie can bring for D2.

Dave

I’m genuinely impressed with Destiny 2 – It’s already on my GOTY list, if I were to have any concerns I’d say it can be quite an overwhelming title at times, as a less experienced Destiny player there is a huge amount to take in with a lot of jargon to deal with, it’s easy to get swept away with the crowd and almost not understanding some of the intricacies of the higher level game. I’ve yet to reach the level that allows me to raid and then to start looking at infusing weapons with one another, I’m constantly having to look at guides and ask my team silly questions.

If you can, take your time with the game, because it’s well worth playing, you will lose all time though!

John

A brilliant addition to the Destiny franchise. A brand new building block for Bungie to work from, with the edges of known space being their limit. It, however, as an FPS/MMO/Shared World hybrid, has to be looked at as such. The Rise of Iron period of Destiny 1 was such a high point, that the changes in systems – be it core or quality of life – will hamper Destiny 2 for some players, for sure. Though, those who didn’t return for The Taken King, will see such an immense game in comparison to their first year or less of Destiny 1, they’ll be swimming in Vex milk for a good chunk of time.

Any major concerns?

Ady

Apart from those bloody Dogs? I have no immediate concerns at all. It appears that the endgame is strong, with loads to do at the moment. My only concern is that the content will become stale and boring over time. Public events seem to be on repeat, at least in the EDZ, so the loot will need to be worth the grind if this is the case.

Cat

A major concern for me right now is grind fatigue. I’m already starting to see that settle in, but thankfully I still have other things to keep me busy for the moment. I still have my other two characters to run through the dozen hours of base content.

John

Nothing I didn’t mention earlier, your honour.

The standout moment of your time with Destiny 2, so far?

Ady

The campaign was one of the best FPS shooters I have played, and in recent years its up there with Titanfall 2. I love the fact that the vanguards play more of a role, and they are characters with their own stories now, rather than vendors in the tower. Cayde 6 in particular with his story mission with Failsafe. But the standout for me was the social space reveal at the end of the campaign. A nod also has to go to Tess at the farm who’s line roughly similar to “Do you think an apocalypse is enough to stop Eververse” is a great social commentary on in-app purchases.

Cat

Standout moment? Hmm… Just how different and epic the last few missions felt. Without going into spoilers too much, it didn’t feel like “traditional Destiny”, and more like a Halo-injected Destiny, with some incredible set-pieces…

Dave

There are some moments towards the end of the campaign that really was fantastic, typical Bungie, so much action mixed in with a fabulous soundtrack, I really didn’t want it to end.

Aside from that, just being able to join up with your mates and do whatever we feel in what is a fascinating world with masses to discover.

John

Failsafe!

Finishing the Rat King quest chain with TiX clan members. No spoilers here, but if you have done it, or when you have, you’ll understand the chest ache from the intense action and drama on service. It’s not easy, is it?

Thanks to Activision and Xbox for supporting TiX

>Observer_ Review

Allow me to preface this review by stating that I had to restart the game after several hours due to >Observer_ saving whilst I fell through an apartment floor. I experienced many, many bugs and glitches with Observer, and I’d have uninstalled the game without a second thought if I had not been hooked by several parts of the game before these issues started to appear. So, with that said, let’s get down to the brass tacks!

>Observer_, like one of my game of the year contenders, starts in a car. From there we witness the catalyst that starts the journey of Dan Lazarski, a detective-stroke-hacker known as an Observer. Dan Lazarski is voiced by Rutger Hauer – yes, Rutger Hauer of Blade Runner fame– and his performance is fantastic. He lent his features to main character’s model, too.  After receiving an off-the-grid call from Adam, your Son, the game begins.

There are a lot of twists, turns and socially offensive moments in >Observer_, and I’d be remiss if I spoilt any of them for you. That being said, I’d struggle to review the game without at least painting a silhouette based on certain aspects of that game, so please bear with me.

What is immediate about the world of >Observer_ is that it’s gone to hell in a digital and augmented handbasket. Upon entering the courtyard of the apartment building you’ve tracked Adam down to, where you’ll spend most of your time – the use of the building is masterful by Bloober Team, you are greeted by bleeding neon, glitchy environments, and very little visual life – a message that flows throughout the close to dozen that you’ll spend with Dan. It doesn’t get much better when you enter the apartment complex. You’ll meet a war veteran, a scrap bot turned cleaner and even more hints that this experience won’t be any less of a mind-frick than Bloober Team’s previous hit, Layers of Fear.

After being introduced to the conversation system, which is simple by design, but encourages exploring the answers of those you talk to, you head off in the direction of Adam. This is where you will get what can be considered the tutorial section of >Observer_. You must establish a crime scene, using both electronic and biometric scanners to discover clues that will allow you to move forward. Most areas like this have the minimum items you should interact with, then several other bonus type items – these can lead to side quests in your police log.

The biometric scanner is by far the worst of the three vision modes that you have, as it can faux-blind you if there is nothing in the area; however, you need to use it, otherwise, you could be backtracking to swab that splatter of blood you missed several rooms back. Whereas the electronic and night vision modes allow you to still move around the world mostly unhindered whilst activated.

Dystopian Poland is the setting, though you’ll be hard-pressed to find any accents that aren’t heavily soaked in American. The general feeling of the world that Bloober has created with <Observer_ is one that’s only limited by the digital borders crafted by the mega corporations. Poland may be the setting of the adventure, but it may not look much different than an East Midland small town in the UK.

You see very few people in >Observer_, but that doesn’t stop the characters in the world from delivering chilling performances from the other side of their doors, or via distorted imagery within their digitally decaying minds.

As an Observer, you will spend a good chunk of time within the minds of other people, and it is apparent that it takes a toll on the Observer; These effects are a core strand of the passive narration in >Observer_, you question at times if what happened was real or simply a side-effect of your mind hacking activities. Hacking into the minds of the population of the Apartment building isn’t as regular as I’d have wished for, however, when it does happen it will consist of puzzles, some mini-games, and other activities – these usually mind specific, apart from burning Spiders.

Early on in your exploration of the apartment block, you will find a computer terminal that has a ROM on it that can be played, and this is where I had the most challenging times in >Observer_ that wasn’t due to bugs or glitches. The game consists of 10 levels, not all are on the same terminal and not all are on terminals you discover whilst playing the main story; you will find a good percentage off the beaten path, as well as finding other world building situations. These can range from following the roses left around the world, to collecting RC cars, and more.

I’ll hold my hands up, I had a really tough time reviewing >Observer_. Being forced to restart due to constantly falling through a floor, getting stuck under floorboards, or reloading the game due to not being able to continue the story as an NPC was not present in a room, and more annoyances.

However, I can say that outside of all those frustrations, I had a good time in the shoes of Dan Lazarski. The social messages laid around in the world created by Bloober are clear and at times all too real. Having my dozen hours being narrated by Rutger Hauer sure helped keep me invested, as did the nicely placed story – which, if not a little cliché near the end, was a joy to experience.

Thanks to Aspyr Communications for supporting TiX

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows review

Masquerada’s opening kept me playing, and it will help me return to the replay the chapters and acts of this criminally undercooked RPG.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is described as “…a tactical action RPG set in a lush 2.5D world…” – by Witching Hour Studios, developer, and Ysbryd Games, publisher. Before I jumped into Masquerada, I tussled with the thoughts of if I had enough time to sink into an RPG at the moment – yes, as a contributor to TiX, it is my duty, yet I know how hard I can fall for an RPG! – with my 20/20 hindsight, I should never have wrestled with such grand of a notion.

The gameplay of Masquerada is rather simple, maybe a little too simple for a PC and console release. I often felt that I would be more comfortable navigating the rather linear scenes of Witching Hour Studios’ RPG via the tap of a phone screen, or maybe the Nintendo Switch than I was with a dedicated controller and large display. Or better yet, having no control over the direction the characters took until combat started.

Speaking of combat; Masquerada’s combat feels as if it is on the edge of greatness. A simple action bar, that can be customised via the character panel, presents your characters abilities for combat – though I found that setting the AI ‘either/or’ settings to use area of effect abilities – which were absolutely stunning to behold; little embers dancing around my fire avatars, water droplets splashing around the combat field from my healing orbs – then selecting and sitting on my healer-type character and keeping RT pressed got me through most combat situations.

The character development of the game hinted at much more than I discovered. Sparse talent-lines with the occasional second prong option to select from, most being either: Generate addition threat, or gain an additional avatar/orb/other, or gain a free use of the ability within Y amount of seconds. With the ability to redistribute your points coming fairly early in the game, I never felt like I could go wrong. A certain character, say your healer, locked out of the party due to story reasons? Change your talents to be more defensive on other characters. Now, typing this out makes it feel like the game allows you to be very adaptive to your situation, yet honestly….it really isn’t.

There are some pretty cool systems that are introduced a little further into Masquerada, and both of these absolutely to be expanded upon in any future installments. One is the Ink and Rune system, where you mix them together and gain a passive stat and action buff, and the other is Masks!

Masks allow you to alter your limit break-esque ability, some of which I found to be more useful than others, such as providing shields to my whole team. As with the most of the art in Masquerada, these animations are vibrant and crisp. Mask abilities are charged by performing certain types of actions in combat. These are mostly passive with all characters apart from your main, who has three stances. Each stance alters how you perform combat and gain energy to use for your Mask attack. Masks can be acquired from a small amount exploration of the scenes. I say small because it is as simple as checking a corner that is just out of view – something that would feel so much grander on a different format, handheld for example, but not so much as is.

The artistic style of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is breathtaking in places, a lot of places. From the animations of the attacks during combat to the subtle flutter of the character frame during conversations. The conversations are fully voiced, these range from the silhouette journeys between home and each act, the little world building chatter from the denizens of the rich Citte and its locals to the emotionally driven performances during the twists and turns of Masquerada’s excellently paced narrative.

There are some heavyweight voice actors behind the vocal punches of the cast of characters that litter the landscape Masquerada. Matt Mercer, Catherine Taber and, oh yeah, Jennifer Hale are just three of the talented performers that lend their vocal variety to this Venetian-inspired epic. Woah, that was a lot of V!

V leads nicely onto the score of Masquerada. The music oft over empowers the scenes, but after reducing the volume in the options by 30% it settled down and I could enjoy it as part of the overall machine, instead of that one overbearing cog. So, the V? Violins are the V. Violins and plenty of other string instruments lead the score of Masquerada. V also stands for the majestic choir that sits just above the instruments, and at brief points hit the heights of the Marty O’Donnell’s work in Halo. Arm hair standing and the rest!

I labeled the gameplay as core-play, but the story would be better labeled as core-everything. Without the fantastic writing, expert delivery and absolutely insane Codex system – think Mass Effect + a number of layers in the Soulsborne series, and you’ll get an idea of the amount of written content in Masquerada. Everything from character motivations, Guild conflicts through to the different type of politics that flesh out the world at large are stuffed within the Codices. Most of these are automatically filled during natural gameplay, some require repeated conversation during different points in the game, and others are just off the edge of the display like those Masks.

From the prologue, which has to be replayed upon completion of the game, through to the stunning reveals, twists, and politicking that happens so subtly, the narration of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is like that tattered book you pick up from the bargain bin; shouldn’t keep you up until the bats come out, but it does. You need to know the drive of the supporting characters just as much as the main characters, even if some are underutilised early on. And when the pieces do fall together, even more so via the Codices, you will forget about the undercooked gameplay, the talent lines that often have little meaning and the absolutely unfair treatment of the man in Blue!

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows has the making of a something special, truly it does. The story and art are top-tier, with the gameplay feeling like it came out of a game-jam. As harsh as that reads, I feel no pang of doubt typing or saying it. Masquerada is saved by someone figuring out the water puzzle from Diehard 3, and I am thankful for that. I look forward to seeing what Witching Hour Studios produces next. More Masquerada, please?

Thanks to Xbox and Witching Hour for supporting TiX

Victor Vran review

Victor Vran is brought to us by Haemimont Games, and with legendary titles such as the Tropico series under their belts, then my expectations were extremely high for Victor. I do have to manage my expectations here and defend Victor a bit, a lot of people are comparing this game to triple A titles and that’s not fair, because triple A is something that Mr Vran is not. With developer behemoths such as Blizzard behind Diablo then titles like this from smaller developers already have a hard time getting noticed. It’s time to be open minded and give the small guys a go.

Victor Vran is our protagonist and he is a Demon Hunter by trade. Victor travels to Zagoravia, a dark dank city where all manners of undead foe spawn from the ground and evil wizards emerge to cast all hell onto you. The main thing that puts Victor out in front is there are no classes to speak of, it’s you, Victor, and endless enemies to battle through. You can, however, obtain outfits and these offer various perks and aesthetics but they’re definitively not classes.

You have four types of weapons to choose from: swords, guns, hammers, rapiers. These drop from enemies and can be found in loot chests scattered around the world. Like any game of this type, loot is important, and as usual the rarer the better. Each weapon has three abilities, I can’t really tell you what they are as I didn’t really take much notice but each one has its own devastating attack weather that be targeted or a simple AOE effect. Along with your weapons, you have Overdrive, as you attack this builds up its own power bar and when it’s full you can unleash your Demon Attack skill causing carnage in your wake. Demon abilities drop like weapons and also the rarer the better. Demon skills aren’t always offensive though as some give you protective and healing auras making life a little easier.

You can equip two types of weapon at any one time and eventually unlock the ability to equip two types of demon skills. Switching between one weapon type and another is simple, at the touch of the RB button you switch, meaning that you can use your harder attacks in quick succession. The controls over all are really good and simple to get to grips with. Victor Vran offers something a little different in terms of viewpoint though, whilst most crawlers give you a fixed view, Victor Vran allows you to rotate the screen meaning you can get into every nook and cranny of each area.

Combat is often fast and exciting, with mobs spawning around all the time and quite often in packs. This gives for a satisfying feeling when you drop a devastating melee attack and obliterate everyone on the screen. With multiplayer also being an option this adds for some exhilarating gameplay as you all bring your own unique flair to the game. Difficulty naturally increases but it’s worth trudging through with your team on the hunt for better loot. That being said, sometimes you can get lost in the carnage and things get quite confusing but that’s a small price to pay.

Victor Vran also gives players a jump ability, something that is missing from most crawlers, this allows you to jump over walls and seek out hidden treasures behind walls and fences. If you jump into a wall you get a double jump chance meaning that you’re not limited to a certain path and this allows for some exploration of areas. Typically areas are big enough to allow a fair amount of venturing off the beaten path, all in the hope of finding a find a rare spawn that will drop some phat loot.

Speaking of which Victor Vran is packed with the stuff, there is loot everywhere, some not so good but you don’t have to venture far into the game before you start picking up some decent items. Some people may be put off by that but it does come in handy early on, trust me. When you reach the ripe old level of 16 you get access to the transmutation machine, this allows you to sacrifice the trash loot and improves what you have. When it comes to loot, it’s yours and yours alone, there is no trading with other players and no swapping that legendary hammer with your friend for a quick boost.

With all the elements that most RPG/dungeon crawlers have, Victor Vran doesn’t disappoint. Sometimes it can get a bit tedious especially when it comes to the voice acting, which by the way stars Doug Cockle of Witcher fame. There is a character called the “The Voice” who randomly speaks to you and sometimes offers hints, the voice cracks the same jokes all the time, frankly it gets a bit boring. These shortfalls should in no way deter you from giving Victor Vran a go, because it’s a part of what is a fantastic dungeon crawler.

Victor Vran is not without its issues but on the whole I really enjoyed playing it and I will definitely be returning to Zagoravia for more. Graphically it’s adequate and the sounds fit perfectly, Victor Vran is a treat for dungeon crawler fans and perfect for those who want something a little different. No crawler would be complete without chickens making and appearance…yep that’s right you get a gun that shoots out chickens…what more could you want. Why not click on the video below for some gameplay and a video review of the game.

Thanks to Haemimont Games and Xbox for supporting TiX