Review: The Crew 2

Never before has a Touring Car race looked so pristine.

Never before has a Touring Car race looked so pristine.

Now it’s been a while since I started playing The Crew 2 and there’s a very good reason for that: it has absolutely eaten away any and all free time in my possession. Yes this fresh instalment from the quintessential, vastly open world series from Ubisoft and Ivory Tower takes everything you may have enjoyed from the original Crew game and, for the most part, largely improves upon everything you could have hoped for. 

First let’s talk cars... and boats... and PLANES?! I’ll be honest when I saw the first trailers and gameplay for The Crew 2, I was losing my mind at the possibility of reenacting some Goose and Maverick wingmannery whilst Danger Zone plays in the background. Sadly (so far) there are no F-18s to be seen, but the sheer catalogue of vehicles in the game is mind boggling; 220 (hot damn!) different cars, 27 different bikes, 11 boats, 8 planes with both air race and aerobatics versions and 1 helicopter. Now bear in mind these vehicles are split between 14 separate disciplines of piloting built into four main groups: Street, Off-road, Freestyle and Pro-Racing - it would be a tad silly to put a motor cross bike against the shuddering power Koenigsegg Regera, although you’re more than welcome to try it out in this game. As such, the discipline system works separately to the previous game in that each car can be separately purchased, in place of upgrading your car into multiple disciplines. Now this vehicular repertoire should be enough to entice any racing game fanatic, however on the off chance it isn’t, the devs have sweetened the pot by adding interior views for EVERY vehicle in the game so you can feel ultra immersed in your god like state when driving your Koenigsegg Regera - and I will keep referring to this car as I had some hard nerdgasms figuring out how it worked and spent a good two hours earning enough money to buy it!

Which brings me nicely onto the situation with in-game currency. Earning money is significantly less complicated and easier than the Crew 2’s predecessor. In the original game you’d need to graft for around half a day, alongside sending your friends on missions to complete in real time in order to accrue an amount in the ballpark of Mini Cooper territory - in short, hardly worth the effort. Let alone if you wanted a super car you’d be looking at paying 700,000 in game currency which took twice as long to get close to. In The Crew 2, earnings are accrued based on racing, skill based activities and the new photography system. Furthermore, earnings from these events have been increased significantly from the games. As such you can complete a two minute race and expect to earn around 13,000-15,000, meaning you can buy those top tier hyper cars (Koenigsegg Regera) for around a two hour graft. Easy. Naturally the longer the race, the higher the earnings, but the shorter races are much more efficient for earnings based on time consumption - I did the maths, I wanted that Koenigsegg bad. 

See what I mean? Pure beauty on wheels.

See what I mean? Pure beauty on wheels.

Sonically, this game is a masterpiece. Imagine engine sounds for everything far and in between, imagine ambiences for every possible environment that graces the American landscape, imagine the sound of the tires kicking up puddles in the rain... basically imagine you’re actually driving - everything is seamless. The real winner for sound in my books is the dedication the the reverb zones in the game. The attention to detail when driving near any occluding objects is staggering, in fact it’s nigh on impossible to find a static object that does not in some way impact the reverb signature of your vehicle and the others around. The sad thing is that it took me a while to notice this, but when I did it absolutely boggled my mind. Seriously, I urge you to just drive down a street in New York without any music on and just experience the sheer wizardry that has gone into the reverb programming - phenomenal. Furthermore, the music in the game seems to be much more diverse than the first Crew instalment, obviously it’s nowhere near as diverse as say GTA V but that’s forgivable with the level of effort that’s gone into the sound design and programming. 

Now I can sing the praises of The Crew 2 for as long as necessary but for the purposes of keeping this relatively short I’ll list some more good points to the game:

  • Gargantuan sized map, perfect for road trips on Route 66. 

  • Absolutely stunning visuals, although a little dark at night and no way to up brightness on the coals version as far as I’m aware. 

  • No expense spared in replicating major cities and landmarks. 

  • The ‘story’ is an interesting mix of sandbox and narrative elements. Gone are the days of the gritty 510 cartel, but not forgotten. 

  • Koenigsegg Regera - nuff said.

  • Photo mode, video editor and live track bring some really nice features to the franchise. 

Offroad driving in itself is enough to sell this game.

Offroad driving in itself is enough to sell this game.

Now it goes without saying that a game of this calibre doesn’t come without its kinks and flaws - and as I say I can sing the praises of the Crew 2 for quite some time so these do not detract from the overall gaming experience, but should still be mentioned. Firstly, the map to me seemed noticeably smaller than that of its predecessor. As previously mentioned the map is still mahoosive, but I remember completing races in The Crew 1 that at times took well over an hour - sometimes venturing into three hour territory. Whereas, in The Crew 2 the longest race is an east to west coast hyper car sprint that takes at most 45 minutes. Which is a bit of a shame as I’m the sort of person that will set up a playlist on Spotify and happily drive my virtual Koenigsegg Regera around for extended periods of time. So either the routes are shorter, the cars quicker or maybe the vehicle list amount was prioritised over the map size in the data budget. 

Next, it needs to be said that the crashes are severely unremarkable. When you’re driving your Koenigsegg Regera down The I-85 at 275mph, it’s somewhat fairly difficult to avoid the assortment of Cherokee Land Cruisers that dominate the surrounding asphalt. As such you’d expect a flurry of metal, glass and tires to disperse across the tv screen whilst you’ve got your hand down your popcorn bucket. Which is why crashing, then immediately screen wiping and respawning is so very disappointing. The most damage you can expect to see on your car is a couple of scratches around the front bumper, even from a high speed, head on collision. There’s something weirdly satisfying to crashing a car into a bridge and watching it burn in its near-gelatinous carcass of crumple zones and singed leather interior. Alas this is simply not the case with The Crew 2 but by no means was I expecting it. To discredit the game purely based on this after seeing the effort applied to building this game, I’m plucking at straws really. By no means should you expect crash physics akin to Wreckfest, let alone soft body physics like those from BeamNG Drive, but maybe if there was something in place to basically say, “You’ve crashed! Here are the consequences!” I would be a very happy man in that instance. 

Finally, the micro transactions - Crew Credits (CCs) as they’re known in game - are, quite frankly, farcical. In the previous game, the currency was difficult to accumulate meaning that the CCs were in some cases warranted, especially for big purchases like the Koenigseggm Agera at a cool 1.1 million in currency. However, with the realisation that money is drastically easier to earn, it brings the existence of the CCs in to question. Perhaps Ubisoft are targeting the purchases primarily at those sorts of people who want the fastest cars, but don’t plan on actually using them. I can’t quite wrap my head around it in all honesty. Sure, the hefty 1.7 million price tag on the Koenigsegg Regera is a bit daunting at first, but when you sit down and play the game you figure out the ways in which you can climb the financial ladder easily, making that price tag quiver in the shadow of your racing prowess. Of course you could always spend 243,000 CCs buying the car - which is a minimum purchase of around £18 ($24) - but where is the fun in that? There’s a real sense of achievement driving around a car you put in a lot of graft in order to own, a feeling akin to that of working up to 90 Smithing in Skyrim and building your first Daedric armour set. You feel like a king - untouchable, infallible, brimming with confidence. That’s a feeling you don’t get when you just buy it with real money. “Hey look at my sweet ride guys! I spent £18 on it.” It defeats the very object of the game in all honesty. What’s the point of racing in the plethora of events on offer if you just buy your vehicle list with real money? At RRP, The Crew 2 costs £55 ($71) for PS4. Buying the Koenigsegg Regera with real money is, in essence, like buying another third of the full game.

To summarise on a more positive note, if you are a fan of the racing game genre then The Crew 2 is definitely a strong contender for a best game in terms of it’s sandbox elements. If you’re more of a hardcore racer looking for in depth simulation, this might not be as good a choice but it’s definitely a good bet for if you want to take a load off in between your Grand Prix sessions in F1 2018. As previously mentioned, you might as well buy this game solely for the work put into building the sound effects and pressing as it is a masterpiece. Should you like amazing visuals, The Crew 2 has got you covered. Want to fly, captain or drive anything you can think of? While it might not be able to provide you with a Boeing 747 (yet…) it goes a long way to fulfil all of your childhood fantasies of driving that Lamborghini, Ferrari… Koenigsegg Regera. Whilst it does have it hiccups, these can be overlooked due to the sheer work and effort that has gone in to make this game what it is. 

Review: Inside

Precarious safe says hi!

I’d been putting off inside in a couple of ways: firstly putting off playing it as I was doing a sound redesign for it (which you can find in my projects section) and secondly by doing this review. To cut a long story short, I love this game, but I do NOT understand it. 

If you don’t know Inside, it’s a game by Danish dev team, Playdead, and is quoted as the spiritual successor of the highly acclaimed Limbo; a.k.a arachnophobia simulator. A successor in that you play as a small lad, running from left to right in a beautifully designed pseudo-3D, dystopian world. When I say beautifully designed, I really mean it. The character design is simple yet effective, and the level design is flawless. 

Which brings me nicely onto the sound design. I did some research into this a while ago when I was writing a proposal for uni; Martin Stig Anderson is effectively a wizard. Imagine you’ve not only come up with a marvel of immerse sound design and compositional work that reflects the emotions of the game in a master stroke, how do you make it better? By putting a transducer and a contact mic on a human skull and playing the score through that. Anderson has some before and after examples of what this does, but it’s just fascinating and incredibly innovative. It helps to really build upon a level of claustrophobia that is present within the game, not being able to escape from, at times, some really sticky situations, which is helped further by the parameterised dynamic breathing of the character. As this is a game without dialogue, the sound design forms an incredibly important part in building the narrative and sealing the immersion down. The sound design makes you think you ARE running away from wild dogs in a forest, narrowly escaping them. It makes you think you are moments away from drowning in the vast water sequences. It makes you think you are part of this giant conveyer line of people, walking almost certainly to your death. It’s so powerful that it makes you think you’re INSIDE the mind of this lad (Once again I do not apologise for the pun). 

Positively threatening, oversized security cameras.

If I’m to go slightly more general now, I got really engrossed in playing this game, I mean it helped that I chose to play it on a snow day as I couldn’t leave the house anyway, but even though this game is on the short side it definitely does not detract. You can easily play through this game over the course of a day, but to really get the most out of it you need to spend time and experience it, as pompous as that sounds. Just appreciate the high attention to detail that is going on everywhere in this game. Seriously though there’s a lot more going on than you think, even if you don’t quite understand it. I played through this game from start to finish over the course of a couple of days and I left really pondering what was going on, whether there was some underlying narrative or metaphorical meaning regarding the industrial machine of the world or whether it was just meant as an artistic piece. The meaning is there for you to discover for yourself once you finish it. Just be aware though it’s a pretty rough ride. 

Legitimately, I would not recommend going into this game thinking that you can run a permadeath with no prior experience with the game, or even the developers. It might seem frustrating at first, but in order to really play this game, you need to learn how not to die. Everything in Inside is trying to kill you; the people, the animals, the water, the animals in the water, the ground, the buildings, the caves, the sky, the air, the EVERYTHING. Seriously, this game is out to get you, but that’s actually the beauty of it. It’s very much a trial by fire, you run in all guns blazing, get picked off by the first thing you come across, and you adapt your play so that you don’t die the same way again. Naturally this may take a few tries, depending on the situation and the difficulty presented. But after a while you start to develop a knack for avoiding death… Or so you may think. The game is very good a coercing you into a false sense of security, and as such presents little traps here and there and is consistently ramping up and modulating the number of variables in place to kill you. For instance, there’s a puzzle in the game where you have to push a heavy safe off of a high platform, but only realise it’s connected by a rope to the small (very breakable) wooden platform you’re standing on, which dropping from kills you. So realistically; the game kills you, you learn how it kills you, you get confident, it kills you again harder. In Inside, you are never safe. 

Simplistic, yet effective world design really builds sense of fear and tension.

Aside from the constant barrage of player deaths, however, is the overall gameplay of Inside. The general feeling of Inside is a part explorer, part puzzle-based wonder, and part well constituted platformer. All of these parts come together seamlessly to create an incredibly immersive gameplay experience. You learn fairly early on that there are certain collectibles hidden around the map - on y first play through I missed the first three and from onwards of collecting the fourth I was constantly checking every space in every environment to make sure I didn’t miss another (which went a lot worse than initially planned). Taking the time to look for these collectibles really makes you appreciate the size and beauty of the levels and environments featured in Inside. Furthermore, the puzzle elements of the game are a classy combination of both intriguing and perplexing; they offer a suitable difficulty that ramps up as the game progresses, but the game also reveals the logic required for some puzzles as it progresses. Much is the case in the so called “20 Man Puzzle”, in which you have to explore six different areas over three different floors in one environment, in order to gather 20 people to stand on a platform opening up the next area. Each area has it’s own puzzle to solve so really there’s a level of puzzle-ception going on, and it also allows for a nice break from the constant cycle of dying. Finally, the platform mechanics are somewhat of a joy to work with, I fell in love with how well the physics work and to the extent that they apply certain puzzles to the platform realm. Furthermore, although the movement system takes place on a 2D plane, this is by no means reflected by the platform elements. There are elements that can be moved in the pseudo-3D realm of the game to allow access to certain areas, and open up solutions in puzzles. 

Fundamentally, what makes this game so intriguing is how it works so well and can easily suck up a good 3-4 hours of your life, and yet so little is explained. It very much has an art house kind of vibe to it, which leads me to believe, as mentioned before, that there is some form of metaphorical meaning behind Inside, or whether it’s cognitive purpose is purely a case of what you see is what you get. I feel bad for repeating this, but at the same time it has baffled me so much that I feel the need to talk about it a lot, it’s very much stuck in my head as another realm of uncertainty. If you’re in the market to be as baffled as me then by all means play this game and read into it as much as you like and ping me a message with what you think is going on. If you’re no in the market for sheer bafflement then you should still play this game, it is, as mentioned before, a fantastic combination of exploration, puzzle solving and platforming, which culminates together to make a really nice game. Even if it does kill you every five seconds. 

Nostalgia Corner: Need For Speed Most Wanted 2012

A driving game, to end all driving games.

A driving game, to end all driving games.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the games that really shaped my ideals; not to sound too cliché but the games that made me what I am today. There are definitely a few worthy contenders for this, of which I may talk about at a later date. But for now I want to address an all time favourite of mine: Need For Speed Most Wanted (2012) - hereafter NFS. 

I first got excited about this game after watching a 20 minute-ish play through on YouTube, and even then I fell in love with the game and told all of my friends to get it. Then when I actually started playing the game, I realised that is so much more than the stunning graphics, great soundtrack and comprehensive collection of sounds. It’s the sense of freedom you get from it. 

Look how pretty it is!

Look how pretty it is!

I’ll set the scene for you; I got this game during my GCSE year back in secondary school, and played this game as downtime in between my revision sessions… Which is a complete lie, I played this game rather than doing my revision (you would too don’t judge me). So around this time I’m between 15 and 16 years old, on the cusp of being able to drive, but still lacking that level of independence that you get from it. As such this game more or less filled the void of not being able to drive for two year until I was able, and that’s what really made it an all time favourite. It may be sad to say this but I had an emotional connection to that game; I played it when I was happy, I played it when I was sad, I played it when I was angry, you get the idea. It was a great means of stress relief from that busy time in my life. As such, it is also probably one of my most played games of all time at around 300 hours of game time. 

There was just something so liberating about being able to drive anywhere you want, pick up a random car that was parked on the side of the road, and then drive that anywhere you wanted. You could literally sit in this loop for a good coupe of hours and not realise that time was moving. Furthermore, it’s one of those games where even if there’s nothing to really do, you can always set yourself a challenge within the map; it’s one of the best sandbox driving games out there (and it’s such a shame it hasn’t been remastered yet). It’s this sandbox element that the developers, Criterion, excel at. If you play Burnout Paradise (which is being remastered, praise be unto Criterion), you can really see a lot of crossover between some of the mechanics both games feature; the ease of changing vehicles, the incredible driving mechanics and the stunning visuals. But the open world exploration from both games fills me with so much joy, especially so in the case of NFS. 

When I’ve played open world driving games in the past, I’ve commonly found that whilst there is a detailed map, a lot of the designed spaces either side of the road aren’t actually accessible. This is super annoying when you come from the mindset of a secret hunter, intentionally going the wrong way to see if anything is hidden there. NFS is one of the very few open world driving games in which you can actually explore these areas. For example, there’s a pier section in the city part of the map with a ramp up to a secondary platform, on top of which is a spawn point for either a Range Rover Evoque or an Audio A1. Another honourable mention for this would have to be a small back alley on a winding suburb road, which had an Audio R8 hidden in it (literally made me so happy you have no idea). Finding things like these really amazing cars, or security gates or collectibles, really incentivised this level of exploration. The cars too had audio cues when you were close to one you hadn’t yet discovered, triggering the play style of dropping everything until you found this elusive vehicle. As such, this was one of the few games I actually made an active effort to collect everything and get all of the trophies / achievements for. 

Back tracking slightly to my point about creating your own challenges, whist the game did have somewhat of a story progression, by means of completing various events, once you’d reached the end of it you could still come up with a load more stuff to work on. For me this was initially getting the best time and score, out of my friends list, on EVERY event in the game. I did eventually manage it after some hard graft, but this triggered a competition between some friends any myself on some specific events, of which we had roughly 500-700 attempts on just one race. But even aside from this we were coming up with our own challenges, like getting the longest distance on certain jumps around the map (particularly the main bridge out of the city, or the jump over the lake in the Hughes Park), or getting the longest drift or trying to go for a flawless run on a specific driving line. I must have tried to complete the ‘Around the World’ race without crashing over 100 times and managed to do it only once. This is what I mean though, there was so much stuff to do in this game, outside of what you were supposed to do. 

Race mayhem and even more prettiness. What more could you want?

Race mayhem and even more prettiness. What more could you want?

I want to give a memorable mention to the stunning visuals in this game. I have a clear memory of playing just after I bought the airport expansion, where I was driving the BMW M3 GTR featured in the original NFS Most Wanted, and I switched from the normal freeway onto the freeway road into the airport area. There was such a clear distinction between the different road surface types; the normal freeway had visible cracks and had been faded over time, but the fresh airport freeway was absolutely pristine, as if it had a fresh coat of tarmac, no tire tracks or anything. That level of attention to detail absolutely blew me away, I fell in love with driving on that road, to the point where I tried to build a driving line on it. It is so ingrained on my mind as one of my favourite gaming moments, and I even had a full blown conversation with a guy working at Game just about the road visuals from NFS, it was incredible. 

A couple of the things I loved most about NFS were the obscene variety of cars, coupled with the absolute joy that was the driving mechanics. You’d boot up the game and immediately be thinking, “Right, what do I want to drive today?” For me it was normally a choice of three cars: the Shelby Cobra (favourite classic car), the Audi R8 (favourite modern car), or the Hennessy Venom GT (fastest car in the game and capable of turning any person into a screaming Jeremy Clarkson). But this doesn’t even slightly cut into the variety of cars available in the game, there were a plethora of sports cars (Tesla Roadster and Porsche 911), super/hyper cars (Bugatti Veyron and Lamborghini Aventador), roadsters and sport hatchbacks (Audi A1 and Alpha Romeo Mito), classic muscle cars (Dodge Charger R/T and Shelby GT500), cars from previous games in the NFS franchise (BMW M3 GTR), off roaders (Ford Raptor and Range Rover Evoque) and super-lights (Ariel Atom, BAC Mono, Caterham) to name a few. Each of these cars handled differently, but were all equally fun to drive due to the blissful ease of the driving mechanics. There’s nothing that makes me smile more in a driving game than being able to hit the brake button once and pull off the most flawless drift of the century. Seriously, the land of dumb grins is never too far off when you’re pulling the neatest drift up a circular multi storey ramp in a Ford GT. Anywhere you wanted to drift you could. Even if you couldn’t you could find a way. If you couldn’t find a way, you’d make a way. If anything this opened up some seriously creative play in that if you suspected you were about to crash into the back of a small people carrier, you could pop the handbrake and do a nice little shimmy to the side and be fine. That was the beauty of this game, it was phenomenal. 

Another two final honourable mentions go to the Freedrive system and the police chases. My god Freedrive was an absolute gift to the world, the ability to change any of the specs on your car by simply hitting three buttons is something, I feel, a lot of developers could benefit from looking into. Especially as it opened up for a higher level of competition. For instance, I got really into a specific race which utilised both on and off road surfaces, so the smart move was to jump into Freedrive mid-race and swap from track tires to off-roadies. Pulling that off made you feel like a super hacker like you were in Mr Robot or something. Finally, I would like to give a big shout out to the police service of Fairhaven (the game’s setting). Getting into car chases was a lot of fun. It’s not something you’d always be wanting to do, but you did then it was amazing. Much like in the original Most Wanted game, you’d have various ranks of police heat, from which it would get harder and harder to evade from… Unless you were doing the chase in an SVT Raptor, in which case you could slam into police cars as if they were nothing and just rack up points. So whilst fun, the police chases were somewhat unthreatening, which is why I want to thank the police of Fairhaven for their diligence and determination in failing to catch me time and time again. 

Should you need any further indication that this game is an all time classic then by all means look at any YouTube videos you can find on this game and watch in wonder. Failing that, as of around 20 minutes ago I learned that this game is available to stream on the PlayStation Now service, so my evening is sorted. 

Edit: I just learned it's not actually on PlayStation Now, and now I'm sad :(

Review: Knack

Knack: A.K.A. rinse, repeat, repeat again, repeat *again*, throw controller out of the window.

Knack: A.K.A. rinse, repeat, repeat again, repeat *again*, throw controller out of the window.

First and foremost, I'd like to start this review by saying it made me very glad to discover that this game hit only 54% overall on metacritic... And if that doesn't set the tone for this post, then I don't know what will!

I had relatively high hopes for Knack starting my experience off; I thought the mechanics of gathering so called relics (basically stones with super powers) to build "Knack" (relic powered main character) and increase his size and damage output were quite neat. Also, as PlayStation released this as another free game this month alongside the beautiful Rime, I thought it would be held in a good stead. At least to start with... It doesn't take long for the realisation to settle in that you have to have a real knack to play this game (I do not apologise for the pun). I'm going to interject quickly with some audio thoughts before I get as mad as I did when playing this game.

So as far as the music goes in this game, I thought it replicated a kind of Ratchet and Clank-esque vibe. It does the job and effectively conveys the theme of the game/level, but it's always in the background so you tend to phase it out quite quickly. It doesn't really have the orchestral power of other games such as Destiny 2, but that's to be expected from a kid's game. Sound design wise Knack is very much a case of hit and miss. There were some good elements in there, particularly in the case of how ice shards sink in the immersion feeling as they play around with the mechanics, and more so some of the sound effects for breaking down walls I thought were on the clean side of things. However, certain enemy types were slightly unconvincing from a sound perspective and, frankly, there were some very flat sounding explosive sounds. 

Anyway that brings me to the end of being remotely nice. Sit back and enjoy this white knuckle ride of distaste. 

First of all I want to say that I don't think I'm necessarily bad at games, in fact I'd say I'm pretty good at some. But Knack seemed to be on an entirely new level of difficulty for me, considering I was playing on normal mode. I just couldn't understand why enemies would deal so much damage, and why health was so hard to regenerate. In the end I mounted a full on rage quit and deleted the game, which is something I have never, ever, EVER, done before. 

The long and short of it is, the combat system, which this game is ENTIRELY centred around, is flawed to the highest degree. Furthermore, the checkpoint system is absolutely relentless. The game follows a strong focus on linearity, moving from one combat sequence to another, which already is pretty uninventive. But this linear nature is coupled with simplistic, and sometimes impossible, combat. In turn this makes the game tiring and tedious; there's no incentive for moving between sequences, other than a dry story line which offers very little incentive in the first place (we'll come back to that point later though). What needs to be expressed though is how backwards the combat mechanics are. First of all we're introduced to some basic one-button combat on square (classic.) and a short dodge on the right analog stick. This is all well and good, and you'd think this would work perfectly well, but the movement involved in both the attacks and the dodging is effectively minimal. You move a matter of centimetres when dodging, which makes dodging meaningless, and the hit box on the attacks is so small you'll spend most of your time swinging at an enemy only to get caught out in between attacks and lose most of your health. Which brings me onto the next point: the health system.

As we said earlier, the game utilises relics as a means of building up Knack, but they also serve as the health system. You can increase your max health or regain health lost by destroying crates and containers with relics inside them. You would have thought this would be a good idea, until you realise how infrequently these crates actually spawn... and more so the fact that this is the ONLY WAY to regenerate health. FURTHERMORE, the amount of health dished out by these crates is so pitiful that there is just no point in even bothering to pick them up. EVEN FURTHERMORE, is the fact that the enemies deal such a high level of damage that there is no point to having a health bar in the first place. Even low level enemies have the capability to seemingly destroy not just Knack, but a small housing estate in the process, like some low budget Godzilla style film. So to sum up the situation, imagine you're a moderately sized flea, wandering through a world of giants armed with V2 rockets, and the only solace from the megaton destruction is a sparse assortment of Jacob's cracker crumbs. These enemies are relentless, even on normal difficulty, to the point that it makes the game unbelievably frustrating on a Super Meat Boy level. It is also incredibly hard to dodge these enemies, down to the fact that they possess an uncanny level of accuracy and determination. The targeting system on the enemies is unrelenting; you'd normally expect an enemy in game to start an attack and settling on a sole direction with which to launch that attack, this isn't the case when it comes to Knack. No, enemies will target Knack for the duration of the attack, making the dodging even more useless, as the timing involved with effectively dodging a life threatening attack boils down to a matter of femtoseconds. By the end of this I actually felt sorry for Knack, he'd been killed by the same enemies, in the same sequences, and respawned at the same checkpoint two kilometres back. I could feel his stoney blood boiling.  

Accurate representation of both mine and Knack's feelings.

Accurate representation of both mine and Knack's feelings.

I'm going to sum this up before I rant on any further: Knack is a kids game for kids who hate themselves. Over the couple of hours before I ended up rage quitting, I didn't get a lot of enjoyment out of the process. Like I say, I think some of the mechanics are interesting and the sound design has some decent moments in it. But the combat is so impossible and so frequent that it really makes this game frankly unplayable. TL;DR - don't pay money for this game.

Review: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Effectively stunning village scene 

Brothers: A Tale or Two Sons, henceforth Brothers, is a linear, story driven adventure / puzzle game with some absolutely mind bending mechanics. 

We follow the story of two brothers (shocking I know) who are on a quest across a fantasy setting to find medicine for their sick father. The hard part, you ask? The brothers are controlled independently and simultaneously. 

Now when I say that the controls are difficult to handle, I don’t mean that in a bad way. As a matter of fact, I think that the controls are extremely innovative and are actually quite fun to get your head around. Imagine the controller is split in half, with each analog stick handling the character movement and triggers controlling the use and grab functionality. Essentially, it’s an incredibly innovative approach to a local multiplayer control scheme. In a single player environment it’s an utter head screw. 

I’d say I’m normally pretty coordinated, but the first fifteen minutes of gameplay were heavily focused on getting the characters out the bushes they had been running into for a solid 30 seconds. In this regard though, the game is quite forgiving in that whilst one character is being controlled, there is normally somewhere to leave the other idle as not to overload your focus. However, as aforementioned, once you’ve gotten your head around the control scheme it can be really enjoyable to work with. 

Furthermore, for a game that utilises an entirely gibberish language, the story is incredibly compelling. I found myself increasingly involved with the characters and the relationship between the brothers as the game progressed. Without giving too much away, there were moments where I sat back in complete awe from what I had witnessed. However, bearing these points in mind, I feel as though there is so much more the game could have accomplished. 

From more of an audio stand point, I felt that the music was sadly lacking in areas. The compositional theme is formed of close orchestral strings, acoustic guitar and some wacky vocals, which for me didn't really fit as well as I'd hoped it would. There is a definite sense of adventure and fantasy from the music but it almost seems a little too over the top. For instance, there is a lot of reverb which seems unnecessary and frankly the guitar can be quite overpowering. Whilst the game suffered in terms of music, it made up for in sound design. There is a very strong focus on atmosphere and environment in Brothers which is suitably matched in the sound design. The soundscapes are enough to fully immerse you, either with wind, spatialisation or with the event sound effects on their own. Each plays a part in building the overall sonic experience. 

Normally I like a little more challenge from my puzzle games, which I didn't really get from Brothers. Whilst there is a good variety of puzzle mechanics, it needs to be said that it wasn't that hard to get my head around them. There were some moments where I would initially be pretty confused by them, but never for more than five minutes or so. This being said, Brothers is definitely a game more focused on the journey than the challenges you come across on the way, what with its scenic benches, which trigger some pretty amazing views, and a well thought out and nurtured level design. Yet, returning to the previous point, a little more challenge would make this game truly excellent. 

With that being said it's great to approach this game with an open mind, especially considering it came out in 2013 for the last gen. Get yourself up to speed with the controls and have a great time getting sucked into the story and world. 

Workflow: Randomising Footsteps

As both the Inside and Watchdogs sound redesigns are entirely linear, that meant a lot of syncing up audio... Which meant an ungodly amount of time syncing up footsteps:

Yellow outlined frustration.

Yellow outlined frustration.

Long story short, it got a bit tedious having to click and drag this audio around. However, it always needed to be considered that different samples needed to be played to preserve a level of randomness, which isn't the easiest thing to do in a standard DAW (or I just didn't find a way to do it properly). But I did come up with a solution in Wwise:

1. Random container set up in Wwise for a sample set.

2. Wwise Recorder effect set up with the random container playback.

My process was to cut some of the field recorded audio into individual samples, to then import them into a fresh Wwise project. I set up a random container to process the samples on shuffle and to minimise the repetitions. I've also utilised further randomisation by enabling both pitch and volume variation, two semitones offset and two decibel offset respectively. I have enabled continuous loop playback in order to generate a new audio file to import back into the sound design Logic Project.

However, I hit a snag when trying to figure out both how to generate the audio file from Wwise and furthermore, how to implement this file back into Logic. As above, what had to be done was to include the Wwise Recorder module as an effect on the random container. This effect captures audio that passes through the main master-mixer, and generates an audio file on a specified file pathway. The Recorder in this case would only generate a full audio file from the continuous loop if there were no gaps between the samples, hence the 'sample accurate' crossfade setting from image 1. 

Once the audio file was generated it also needed to be cleverly imported back into Logic, due to the fact that Logic would an error when importing the raw file (possibly due to some Windows only coding from Wwise - rough guess). As a result, I had to enable Soundflower, an application that accesses the sound card of the system, to route the audio back into Logic. This was done by playing the generated audio file from the finder, changing the system audio to output to Soundflower, and to set up a record path in logic with Soundflower as the input. 

All in all a bit convoluted way of doing things but good for generating a long stream of samples, randomised in sequence. 

If you want to see the final redesign, please click the button below:

Review: Rime

It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Rime... seriously a matter of 10 minutes-ish. Yes, featured this month on the PlayStation Plus free games, the beautiful aesthetic and dynamics of Rime are truly a marvel to behold. 

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

I recall watching a short play through on YouTube some time ago, enough to intrigue me but not enough to lose interest. Even then I thought the level design and art style of the game were on another level separate from anything I’d seen recently. Crisp, colourful and refined. Yet, when actually trying the game myself for the first time, I was blown away by the sound and music.

Rime follows a third-person perspective of a mysterious young lad, whom we’re introduced to lying unconscious on the shore of an equally mysterious island. Yet, even when presented in this situation, the sound design flawlessly recreates the soundscape for the setting, and continues to do so throughout the game. Furthermore, the music brilliantly compliments the completion of story objectives. So far as to say that exploration and puzzle solving are largely incentivised through the reward of a stunning score. Therefore, not only does the player receive the satisfaction of solving a mind bending puzzle, there’s also some ear candy to go with it. What’s not to love? 

I found myself so captivated by everything on offer in Rime, I watched thirty minutes turn into three hours within the blink of an eye. Yet, I did encounter some moments which broke the spell a slight amount. For instance, the main music theme, whilst it didn’t detract from the moment, seemed almost too similar to a piece from the Lord of the Rings saga. Further to this, during the game we eventually meet a fox companion that barks just a *little* bit too much; especially the case when you’ve messed up the same climbing sequence four times in a row. I’m sure he means well but it does get annoying...

Fox: “<Come on you can do it!>”

Me:  ._. Can you not tho.

But all of these aside I can’t recommend this game enough. The aforementioned features all work seamlessly together, whilst using the slowly ramping puzzles and narrative to push to game forward. Even if just for the music and sound design this game is worth playing, but the whole package makes this game an easy favourite of mine.