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Gigantic (Game Preview) review

There’s something highly compelling about Gigantic. Whether it’s tied to its unique take on the MOBA formula, its varied and well-balanced roster of heroes, its charming cartoon aesthetic, or perhaps a little bit from all columns, whatever it is we can’t seem to stop playing it.

Right now Gigantic’s Preview Program offering involves three maps and a rotating selection from the 16 available characters, that’s in its free version at least. Pay for the Founders pack however, and you’ll have access to the whole cast of quirky, anthropomorphised animal heroes. Trying it out then, is entirely free, and thanks to solid balancing between the heroes, and seemingly the matchmaking, whichever version you play there’s no obvious ‘pay to win’ shenanigans.

Of course, it’s early days but in our experience, things were fair between the competing sides despite the heroes selected. This felt largely due to the restriction of only one hero choice per team, and the free version’s roster including a well-sized selection of heroes to facilitate this. In the end, your five strong team naturally fulfils multiple roles: tank, DPS (Damage per Second) and support. The strategy is in the detail; are the DPS players ranged or melee, what’s the ratio of classes, and are individuals playing to the strengths of their character and class. And as long as the latter was true, matches were tense, action packed and closely fought battles.

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The aim of each match is very simple: deal three blows to the enemy’s guardian, a massive lion eagle thing for the good guys, and a dark snake thing for the bad guys. And in classic MOBA tradition, this means securing points within the map and defeating players and the creatures they summon. This generates energy orbs, and once you reach 100 your guardian dashes across the map and engages the enemy guardian, opening up an opportunity to strike and injure it. The other team’s amount of energy also then aids in their defence, with more granting them a higher chance of pushing back against the onslaught and saving their guardian from taking damage.

However, Gigantic follows less traditional MOBA design when it’s comes to its map layout. Lanes are less of a focus, in fact the maps are more arena shaped. Instead of minions and creatures roaming around and pushing forwards via lanes, the creatures you summon are static, remaining at the strategic points you capture within the map. Here they grant different bonuses, such as healing, defensive barriers, or offensive abilities. Therefore, another part of the overall strategy is figuring out where to put each kind of creature to best benefit your team.

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In truth, the strategy is fairly shallow, but this makes it far more intuitive to learn. With a little practice on each map you gain a good idea of the best strategic points to capture and what creature to put there, which makes for a player base that can pick up and play without having to worry about a steep or complex learning curve. The nuance comes in learning how the heroes work.

The 16 heroes offer a wide variety of move-sets to master, based around the aforementioned three classes of tank, DPS and support. A potion wielding mad scientist can buff the team with defence and attack enhancements, meanwhile, a robotic artillery piece can offer ranged DPS, and a hulking bull can charge on in, distract enemies and absorb its fair share of damage. Moreover, many characters can fulfil the role of two classes, depending on the upgrades you choose as that hero levels up within a match. Once a match is over, these upgrades are reset and you’re free to mix it up next time you jump into battle, changing your role and focus to meet the requirements of your team. There’s certainly characters that have some particularly devastating skills when in the right hands, but there’s always a character or strategy that can level the playing fields, it’s just a matter of finding it. However, the biggest threat your team will face comes from within.

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Teamwork is absolutely crucial to your success, and managing the strategic points, upgrading your characters, killing enemy players without falling yourself, and then attacking the enemy guardian when the time comes, is a lot to keep track of during a match. This is exacerbated by just how fast paced it all is. The maps are small enough, mostly, so a re-spawning enemy can get back into the fray quickly, movement is equally swift, especially in combat, and smooth, lightning framerates makes the whole experience a visual treat. Moreover, the cartoon aesthetic and bright colour pallet is stunning, almost distractingly so.

However, there’s always a ‘but’, or indeed a collection of ‘buts’, fortunately in this case they’re smalls ‘buts’, ones sure to get a good kicking during Gigantic’s time in the Preview Program. Matchmaking is a rather lengthy process, leaving you waiting at the title screen for several minutes. Meanwhile, when a match is found you need to confirm you still want to participate, which often resulted in matches not going ahead and the matchmaking starting from scratch. Hopefully this is more a limited player-base problem than an issue with the matchmaking itself, but that confirmation step really needs to go. One of the maps, Sanctum Falls, is also significantly larger than the others, and despite its attractive design, its size makes matches more drawn out and frustrating. Fortunately, Gigantic’s trick of reducing the map size when the guardians clash – triggered when a match is taking too long – works splendidly at hurrying up a prolonged competition.

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Gigantic also doesn’t feature any private match options or bot battles. A singleplayer tutorial helps you figure things out but the ability to play with and against friends with bots filling up the spare slots would go a long way to making the title more engaging to a larger audience, and aid in people’s quest to master the many characters and their unique upgrades trees and move-sets.

Gigantic is one of the most stable preview program titles on Xbox One, and offers highly compelling MOBA style battles with enough unique twists on the genre to make it stand out. It looks and runs terrifically, and has a wonderfully diverse set of quirky characters that’s hard not to fall in love with. We cannot wait for more maps to be added, in fact, add half a dozen more and we’d call it retail ready, fix our ‘buts’ and we could well be seeing a game of the year contender here.

Thanks to Xbox and Motiga for supporting TiX

Livelock review

Livelock is one of the best examples of its genre. It’s an impressive package that expertly balances its setting, mechanics, difficulty, pacing and visual prowess to provide an isometric twin-stick shooter that’s superb fun to play alone or with friends.

You play as one of three Capital Intellects; human minds uploaded into towering robots armed to the teeth with weapons. You are a failsafe, designed to fix any problems that occur over the eons between Earth being irradiated with gamma rays, destroying all organic life, and the time humans can return to the planet, their minds having been stored digitally in several massive storage servers. Of course, something went wrong, with the planet now embroiled in a war between robotic factions. You and your two fellow Capital Intellects must bring an end to the corrupted robotic forces and secure the stored human minds.

It’s an intriguing story that spins a pleasant tale with a handful of twists and revelations over the course of the 6-8 hour campaign. Furthermore, your robot foes have their own leadership and elite forces for you to exchange dialogue with in a Saturday morning cartoon fashion that’s hard not to enjoy. Of course, the Transformers comparison is inevitable, this is especially so with the voice-work, which is largely excellent and some notable one-liners serving up a chuckle or smile, however, it’s treads a darker line than that of everybody’s favourite robots in disguise, therefore it soon differentiates itself enough to become its own original thing.

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Whilst an intricate tale is being spun, this translates mechanically to shooting and bashing copious amounts of robots, and it’s terrific fun. The isometric view makes everything looks so small yet at the same time, thanks to detailed environments with derelict buildings and vehicles as well as natural features such as trees and rivers, also provides a wonderful sense of scale. Whichever of the three robots you choose – Hex the ranged weapon specialist, Vanguard the melee specialist, or Catalyst the support specialist – you’re inhabiting a hulking great metal beast of a machine. During the explosive fire fights you’ll knock cars incidentally and send them skidding across the battlefield. Meanwhile, you can walk through most walls, suffering the slightest of slowdown to your gait. You absolutely feel like a huge, unstoppable robot, which is excellent.

The sound design further sales your metal might, with thunderous steps as you walk and shriek of steel on steel as your shred your enemies component from component. Additionally, absolutely stunning visuals and enemy design provides unique robotic monstrosities to combat, a strikingly saturated colour palette, and some of the most impressive particle and weapon effects seen in the genre. But it’s the shadows that really pull you in. Everything onscreen casts one, with framerates largely staying smooth and fast. As the battlefield is changed by the destruction of walls and scattering of debris, new shadows are formed dynamically. It’s marvellous.

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However, as previously hinted, there are occasions when the on-screen action compromises the framerate, but it’s thankfully rare and short-lived when it does occur. Additionally, Livelock supports up to three player cooperative play but online only, which is a bit of a shame for couch co-op fans.

If you do venture online for cooperative play you’ll find excellent difficulty scaling to match the player count. Whether playing alone or with others, the challenge is ideally crafted to offer you an intense fight that is often barely winnable, keeping the satisfaction of victory always high and rewarding.

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Shooting and smashing robots in intense battles across a variety of locations ends up feeling more akin to Diablo than any traditional twin-stick shooter. The inclusion of melee combat options as well as a host of different special attacks on cool-downs, of which you can only have three equipped at one time, further this similarity. A secondary mode to the story-driven campaign, Open Protocol, builds on the comparison, allowing you to take on levels without the narrative threads and concentrate on high scores and gaining more experience. With experience comes more weapon options to unlock and upgrade, allowing you to customise your characters to a significant degree, even to the point of changing their class specific specialisation, such as equipping Vanguard with ranged weapons instead of his default melee ones. It’s superbly customisable and allows you to shape your characters however you feel or to what best suits your team if playing online.

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With weapons and abilities unlocked with experience, loot is kept to a minimum and comes in the form of Firmware for your characters, allowing you to customise their colour, their head and their cape. Collecting capes may sound daft but seeing it flap in the breeze as you tear through hordes of mechanical foes is both heroic and awesome.

Indeed, Livelock is excellent, from the hugely satisfying destruction from the environment and enemies, the complex and unique enemy design – to the point where they’ll limp under the weight of their arsenal – to the thematically excellent soundtrack with unexpected layers of instruments that gives Livelock a one of a kind musical score. It’s a tremendous title and a champion of its genre, hurt quite a bit by a lack of local coop and ever so slightly by the odd hit to the framerate.

Thanks to Xbox and Tuque Games for supporting TiX