A quintessential Englishman now living in the United States, Damien is a born-and-raised gamer since the Atari 2600 days of antiquity. Husband, puppy parent, and workaholic entrepreneur, he spends most of his time in some form of creative capacity — be it web design, consulting, or writing as a games critic.
“Building a game platform for everyone”, Google announces a service to let anyone play games in their browser via streaming direct to their PC.
Following the new trend of games as a service (GaaS), Google is working on letting people play games from within Chrome Browser.
The future of gaming?
Competing with current streaming games services such as Utomik, Stadia seeks to bring gaming to everyone, regardless of hardware, as well as connecting the previously separated circles of developers, gamers, and stream viewers.
In 2018, Project Stream managed to successfully stream Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey in 1080p to testers around the world, with clean images and low latency, which acted as proof of concept for what would ultimately become Stadia.
As an example, Google showed that watching a trailer for a new game could embed a Stadia link for Stadia users to fire up the game and begin playing it, in real-time, within a few seconds.
Here a game can be shown streaming and playing seamlessly on low-end laptops, phones and tablets, as well as directly streamed to a TV via a special streaming dongle.
Stadia will come with its own controllers which’ll connect via wifi and can connect directly to modern TVs, though will also be compatible with existing controllers such as DualShocks.
Google claim that Stadia will be able to stream games at up to 4K resolution including HDR at 60fps, with Doom Eternal confirmed to be playable at this spec, with the platform ultimately offering 8K streaming in future.
Given that Stadia’s servers will be able to scale as necessary to keep up with gaming demands, Stadia promises developers a virtually unlimited base on which to develop games; a world of difference from today, where developers need to keep console and current PC limitations in mind when designing and optimising new titles. Unreal Engine, Unity, and Havok will also fully support Stadia, as well as a suite of commonly used middleware in order to help developers dive into building for Stadia.
Stadia will also support cross-platform play, including cloud saves from across other platforms.
One of the more interesting new features of Stadia is “state share”, where developers can choose to have a game’s live state — such as player location, inventory, current actions and so forth — saved and stored, ready to be shared and experienced by other players. Another feature will allow content creators to seamlessly choose to allow their followers and subscribers to join their games via Stadia.
Finally, Google announced Stadia Games and Entertainment as a first-party studio developing for the new platform.
Stadia is due to launch later this year within the US, Canada, UK and parts of Europe.
Bringing the Warhammer universe to action RPGs for the first time, Chaosbane aims to mix hack-and-slash with the universe’s rich lore to create something special.
While games set in the Warhammer (and to an extent, 40,000) franchise were traditionally fairly niche titles, Vermintide and its sequel proved that approaching the fantastical worlds Warhammer offers in the right way can lead to great gaming for everyone to enjoy. This summer, Chaosbane hopes to follow in those footsteps with an action RPG ready to help people scratch that oldschool Diablo itch.
Blood for the blood god
I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical about a Warhammer ARPG at first, as it’s a genre that’s tough to do well — games often focus on either playing well but lacking complexity and diversity (Diablo 3), or having a variety of playstyles at the cost of juggling a number of convoluted systems (Path of Exile).
That’s why when I started playing Chaosbane last week, I was pleasantly surprised.
The game is careful to hit a nuanced middle ground between being easy to pick up and start cutting swathes through enemies, and having an interesting variety of possible builds to accomodate your preferred playstyle.
Chaosbane offers four different characters to play as, each representing an archetypal class and designed to work harmoniously with each other. The imperial soldier acts as a tanking class, able to safely withstand heavy blows and shrug off swarms of monsters, an ideal pairing with the high-elf mage who focuses on controlling and exploding crowds with large-area spellcasting. The dwarven slayer is a typical barbarian class, empowering himself the longer he remains locked in combat with foes, while the wood elf scout prefers sniping mobs from a distance with poisoned arrows, traps and summoned pets.
Each character also has a bloodlust state, which gradually builds from collecting rare blood drops from slain mobs. Triggering bloodlust locks out equipped abilities, replacing them with special high damage skills that often replenish health as they cut foes down. The drops are uncommon enough that a mission will only typically let you trigger bloodlust once or twice, so it’s best saved for boss fights and perilous sections you may have trouble navigating.
While I’ve only had a chance to play as the soldier for now, I’ve sunk a good few hours into the game and can safely say that difficulty tuning is currently hitting a good spot — with new gear and abilities you certainly feel stronger, able to brush past mobs which were previously troublesome. Hacking and slashing has a decent feel, being satisfying when mowing down scores of monsters, though it currently lacks that particular visceral “oomph”, the real feeling of powerful blows crashing down, that Diablo does so well.
Chaosbane offers six equippable active skill slots from a large pool of fifty-something available skills, as well as another three slots for passives of your choice. Each ability costs a number of skill points to equip, with stronger versions of each skill becoming unlockable as you level up. Ability reliance on having enough points to equip things means that you’re not always equipping the strongest version of each skill; you may choose to equip a weak version of one ability in order to have enough points to also equip another, complementary skill.
A genre staple is, of course, loot — and thankfully Chaosbane also approaches this well. Loot drops off of mobs and from chests at a steady rate, and comparing current gear to new drops is easy given that character stats are pared down to just outgoing attack damage, defenses, and the admittedly vague “utility”. Unwanted items can be donated away to the Collector’s Guild in return for increasing your reputation with them, offering progressively stronger rewards each time you fully max out your reputation bar.
Warhammer: Chaosbane currently has a closed beta running for those who have pre-ordered the game, full details of which are on their website. We’re currently having a great time with the game, and look forward to seeing how it evolves up to full release.
Full details of the eleventh chapter for Dead by Daylight has been revealed, featuring a plague-based priestess who can terrorise her victims via infectious projectile vomiting.
A Babylonian high priestess, consumed by the plague and chosen by the entity for her fervor, will be the next killer available to play alongside talkshow host Jane Romero.
The newest killer, The Plague, has an interesting and complex power: Vile Purge. After charging for a few seconds, she can begin vomiting ahead of her, tainting and corrupting those it hits — survivors, generators, and even pallets. Interacting with corrupted objects or being hit by the vomit will make a survivor sick. Once sick, actions such as running, vaulting pallets or interacting with objects will gradually increase the sickness towards a maximum level; once maxed, the survivor falls into a damaged state, becomes broken (cannot be healed to healthy), and regularly pauses to vomit, alerting nearby killers to their presence.
Using one of a few fountains sprinkled around the map will heal and remove the sickness debuff at the cost of corrupting the fountain. Beyond being (presumably) unusable by other survivors to heal, a corrupt fountain can be used by the killer herself to upgrade her power into Corrupt Purge, which adds damage to her vomit.
Her three unique perks are as follows:
Dark Devotion: Upon hitting the obsession, the killer’s terror radius (and any effects connected to it such as Unnerving Presence) transfers from the killer to the obsession for a short time.
Infectious Fright: Whenever a survivor is downed, nearby survivors scream and reveal their location briefly (similar to a raised madness level).
Corrupt Intervention: At the start of a match, generators furthest from the killer are blocked by the entity and cannot be interacted with for a short time.
New survivor Jane Romero focuses on self preservation, with tools to help herself out of tight spots or while helping others. Her three perks are:
Solidarity: While healing another survivor, Jane is also healed herself at a slower rate.
Poised: After completing a generator, no scratch marks are left while running for a short time.
Head On: After remaining in a locker for a few seconds, dashing out of a locker with the killer in front of it will briefly stun them. This causes exhaustion and cannot be used while exhausted.
So, what do you think? Are you excited to see the Plague in action? The new chapter will be available for testing on the Dead by Daylight PTB server later this week.
Indie real-time strategy Bannermen opts for a highly conservative approach to the genre, resulting in an overly simplistic title that fails to captivate.
With an oldschool/classic gaming feel, Bannermen offers a simplified medieval strategy real-time strategy experience which, while perhaps decent as an entry point to the genre, will disappoint RTS enthusiasts with its simplicity.
Back to the Dark Ages
Bannermen opens with a rather stock storyline of an unstoppable malevolent tyrant steadily conquering the world through domination and corruption, and the journey of those banding together to form an army and rising up against him.
While the campaign does try to take interesting approaches to keep each mission interesting — regular base-building domination missions are often interspersed by exploration/rescue missions focusing on the hero units, or wave defense — the missions remain uninteresting at best and broken at worst. Poor AI means that any mission played with an ally becomes something of a babysitting chore, as they’ll die remarkably easy, failing the mission and undoing perhaps 10-20 minutes of your time.
Meanwhile, the occasional bug meant that missions that required collection of certain items to progress sometimes became laborious, such as when a locked gate mistakenly consumed two collectible keys at once, making the mission unwinnable and prompting a restart. Oh, and that replays its introductory cutscene, all of which are completely unskippable.
Gameplay itself is straightforward and reminiscent of the old Warcraft RTS games, with lumber and gold being the two main resources and a focus more on churning out a large basic army rather than gradually progressing through tech trees towards more advanced buildings and units à la Starcraft.
Both buildings and units have a surprisingly sparse range of options available; buildings cover the basic roles of raising supply cap, training units, and researching unit upgrades, as well as temples which can only be built on special altars around the map. Successfully building and defending a temple unlocks a particular cooldown-based spell such as a blizzard or volcano summon, and much like support powers in the Command & Conquer series they’re great for taking down clustered enemies or hostile bases.
All in all though, there’s only about ten different building types in Bannermen, several of which have unit production split up oddly — suicide bomber Convicts are trained at the same station as long-range siege Catapults. I would’ve liked to have seen a more traditional and well understood system of spreading units out, such as mounted cavalry with the catapult instead of the completely unrelated convicts, so that players intuitively know that building X produces light units such as soldiers and archers while building Y assembles heavy units.
Units, too, feel underwhelming, with the standard assortment of archers, frontline knights, and ranged casters travelling alongside a powerful hero. Bannermen also opts for just a single faction, so beyond a choice between which hero unit you want in your army, all players have identical buildings and units available to them. It’s a pity as modern RTS games have readily demonstrated that different factions and playstyles leads to richer, more varied games and adds huge amounts of depth.
Given that the Bannermen developers lack the big budgets of major players like Blizzard, it’s likely that multiple factions or playstyles was simply way beyond the scope of being able to develop in time and on budget; a new faction, possibly introduced via DLC, would really help shake the game up.
The main takeaway with Bannermen is that it feels disappointingly lackluster, as if it was a technical demo seeking funding in order to bring it to the level of polish and complexity that contemporary RTS players expect. Adequate, but uninteresting.
Fans of the late Korean dungeon crawler Grand Chase can rejoice; the universe has been partially revisited in Chase developer’s newest title, KurtzPel: Bringer of Chaos.
Abandoning the old side-scrolling platforming action of Chase, KurtzPel instead feels more akin to contemporary boss slaying titles such as Monster Hunter or Dauntless.
Gameplay revolves around visiting instanced zones where you, and up to three other players in your party, face off against a boss.
Each boss battle is reasonably straightforward and offers little challenge, though the current closed beta only offers content from early game and later battles could be richer and more complex.
Currently only two classes, or “karmas” are initially available for testing — a sword class specialising in breaking defenses, and an archer class focusing on high damage output — though more can be unlocked through gameplay. As new karmas are unlocked you’re able to equip two at a time, toggling between the two classes at will during combat which helps to make sure there’s no real gap in any party composition.
Character creation is roughly on par with modern MMO titles, with decent options for customising hairstyles (including ombres) and body sizing, as well as cliché “bust size and fullness sliders” that eastern titles are fond of — leading to lobbies full of comically busty anime waifus.
Despite simplistic gameplay and admittedly awful post-combat cutscenes (which we think everyone’ll skip through anyway), KurtzPel has the potential to be a pretty fun timesink. We’ll keep an eye on it to see how it develops throughout the beta, and revisit it at launch for a full review.
Aiming to be a retro platformer combining the feel of classics such as Ghouls ‘n Ghosts with the imagination of the lead developer’s seven year old daughter, Battle Princess Madelyn unfortunately ends up feeling more like a child was let loose on a level editor, to predictably disastrous effect.
I wanted to like this game, I really did. The graphics are wonderful, the overall aesthetic of each area is interesting and the premise behind the game — that the lead developer’s young daughter inspired and helped design much, if not all of the experience — is both unusual and attention piquing. Battle Princess Madelyn‘s pixel art and tough, oldschool gameplay aim to hit nostalgic notes for those of us old enough to remember games on cassette tapes or pouring endless coins into arcade machines.
Regrettably, the game itself plays out as a lackluster experience, neglecting the wealth of level design wisdom that has developed since those days of yore, resulting in a hugely frustrating cycle of repeatedly getting lost and dying, with no sense of progress.
Not exactly child’s play
Madelyn boasts two modes — a story mode with a world to explore, NPCs to quest for and the usual adventuring, and a more straightforward arcade mode which plays more like the vintage classics that so readily inspire it, in particular the Ghosts ‘n Goblins/Ghouls ‘n Ghosts series. Story mode is the main adventure, offering a supposedly easier time, while the tougher arcade mode throws a lot more enemies at you, playing the oldschool “hold on to your pants” feel a lot closer to its chest.
Firing up the game for the first time, I half-expected Battle Princess Madelyn to be very easy; after all, it’d make perfect sense that a game “co-developed” by a child would, in turn, be suitable for players of that age, who are typically bouncing around the fun, colorful environments of the likes of Mario and Shantae. However, whether by design or just developer inexperience, the game cannot remotely be accused of being easy.
The first 30-40 minutes of the game eases you in nicely, and it’s clear that a lot of time went into polishing the initial experience. While elements like quest breadcrumbs and NPC dialogue are a little clunky, and the first section of the game is perhaps a tad too hand-holding, Madelyn quickly gets you up to speed with what to expect from your journey around the world. Mistakes lead to quick deaths, with Madelyn losing her armor when she’s down to a sliver of health (a nice nod to Ghouls‘ Sir Arthur), but the early game is reasonably forgiving.
Unfortunately, once the first dungeon is cleared and the debut boss downed, things take a major turn for the worse. From the second area onwards exploring the maps becomes a tiresome chore, with little sense of direction and confusing layouts exacerbated by awful screen-by-screen level design. For instance, there are countless spots where as you progress you’ll end up on platform with no view of what’s below, and the leap of faith to whatever lays below often ends up a fifty-fifty chance of landing on an instakill obstacle.
Here’s an example of blind spots and poor level design:
You’ll naturally end up on this platform as you try to figure out a way to continue through the second area, and whichever way you decide to jump, drop or fall off, you’ll end up dying in the water below. Oh, and you’ll respawn back on this platform. Excellent.
The game is, unfortunately, chock full of inane level design decisions like this. Enemies spawn almost directly on your character at times, while others are placed in positions where it’s almost impossible to continue without taking damage — and in the early game when you can only take two hits before death, these feel more akin to stabbing your thumbs into a hedgehog rather than enjoying a tricky platformer. Add to this the regularity in which you’ll run out of magic, a resource partially spent to revive yourself whenever you die, and you’ll be sent back to the start of your current zone all the time.
Other elements of gameplay also feel like they’ve missed the mark; simple things that modern gamers take for granted are missing from Madelyn, and the wound left behind aches constantly. Sometimes it’s little things, like being unable to throw weapons diagonally or, more frustratingly, upwards if you’re currently climbing something. Not a problem for most games, but Madelyn likes to add enemies right at the top of climbable things — not even slightly off to the side, just enough for you to quickly whisk yourself up onto the ledge and duck beneath any incoming projectiles, but right in the way to make sure you lose some of that sparse health you’re desperately clinging to.
Just to be clear, my problem with Battle Princess Madelyn isn’t that “it’s too hard”, but that the core design of the game is extremely frustrating. I’ve been playing and completing punishing titles for decades — including the Ghosts games on the ZX Spectrum — so I have no problem with tricky games as long as they’re fun and designed well. Madelyn simply isn’t.
Common staples of platformers have been ignored or forgotten, too. Being struck by (or landing on) an enemy results in a hefty knockback but the game doesn’t offer any true invincibility frames during the loss of control, so expect plenty of unavoidable deaths from knockback into spikes, water and other hazards. And while the game does offer a rudimentary fast travel mechanic, the stones that you can warp to and from are few and far between, sometimes with multiple areas spanning between them. I would’ve liked to have seen some form of item that could warp you back to the last fast travel stone you visited as traversing the maps to head back to a town is not only monotonous but, with the hefty amount of cheap deaths, frustrating to the point of simply preferring to quit the game instead.
Simple additions would make the current nightmare of exploring the areas much easier; an example would be the countless arrow signs all over the place that tell you nothing except “something is this way… somewhere”; giving the player the ability to interact with the sign to see what the hell is actually in that direction would be a godsend. I spent far too long putting up with instant deaths, pixel perfect jumps and invulnerable monsters following these signs before reaching the fabled exits they pointed to… which whisked me back to the previous area.
All in all, there’s a pervasive feeling that Madelyn simply wasn’t tested by regular players outside of perhaps friends and family. So many glaring issues — aimless level design, failure to explain mechanics and so forth — would easily be spotted by fresh eyes, and this feedback would’ve truly been invaluable, possibly turning a mediocre exercise in frustration into a fun, replayable experience. I do hope for a sequel, as I’d love to see this game done right, living up to its full potential.
Holding my breath while hiding in a dumpster, cackling while chasing people with an electrified bat, and having my head slammed against the walls of a portable toilet.
Just another day in asymmetric horror survival title and Kickstarter success story Hide or Die, recently enjoying its first closed beta which I had the privilege to jump into and enjoy.
Hide or Die brings up to sixteen players together in a bid to fix fuseboxes and escape from a killer hunting them down, but does so in a clever way that simultaneously encourages players to both work together to progress and against each other, hoping others will die off before they do.
Where’s your head at
The core gameplay loop for Hide or Die is straightforward: once a lobby is full, players disperse from their starting bunker and scatter, looking for fuseboxes to switch on in order to activate escape routes to a temporary safezone, bridging the current area and the next. A short time after everyone has started roaming and exploring, a large orb-like object called the “darkness” lures players to its location with streams of particles billowing towards it.
Once the darkness arrives, players can choose to ignore it and focus on their fusebox objectives or risk running towards it, with the first person to arrive transforming into a killer ready to hunt down and take out the other players. This killer then has until the next area to hunt and eliminate their prey, reverting back to a regular survivor if the next safezone is activated.
The cycle then continues in each subsequent procedurally-generated zone, with any player potentially becoming the hunter, until just two players are left. This triggers a special showdown in which the final survivor can loot and use single shot guns, creating a stand-off situation where either player can be killed and a winner declared.
One of the clever mechanics Hide or Die brings is its use of in-game smartphones. You’re able to pull out your phone at any time, toggling its flash to function as a poor man’s flashlight in dark areas, though it carries the risk of making you very visible to hunters from a distance.
The more useful function of the phone however is its use of messaging, as all current survivors exist in and can freely type as a group chat — letting everybody know they’re near a fusebox, where the hunter has been spotted, or just to make silly conversation.
This phone messaging adds a fun camaraderie with people bantering or crying about a hunter coming their way, and there’s a very nice touch where your phone will state each time a particular player has left the group chat, which means they’ve just been killed.
The game is still in an early, barebones state — developers VecFour are going the traditional beta route of actually having people test, break and give feedback on features and mechanics for the developers to then iterate upon, rather than the contemporary definition where a game is virtually finished and the beta synonymous with trial or demo.
Nonetheless, it’s already shaping up to be a very fun experience, and certainly a novel one; where Last Year is embracing a full Left 4 Dead-esque arcade feel, Hide or Die is heading squarely in the opposite direction, embracing tension and atmosphere.
I remember the sense of awe as I fired up Soul Blade for the first time: the hype-inducing FMV intro, the visceral intensity of swords clashing, the game’s ambitious speed and energy outpacing peers such as Tekken and Toshinden.
While the franchise mostly fell away from me as it grew into the Soul Calibur series — the Dreamcast was very unpopular in my British homeland, and I’ve happily stuck with Sony over Microsoft every generation — the most recent entries have felt somewhat lackluster, with Soul Calibur V feeling decidely uninspired and stale.
Thankfully, Soul Calibur VI returns to its roots, embracing the original ideologies in a semi-reboot which manages to bring the Calibur series back to its glory days.
Moving back in time in both historical context and design philosophy, Soul Calibur VI returns to the era of the first Calibur title, following a new timeline in a reboot designed to get the series back on track as one of the best fighting series available.
The timeline shift allows Namco to bring back some fan favorites of the series who had been retired in previous games, such as original Greek warrior Sophitia and the ever popular ninja Taki, while characters who are either too young or haven’t gone through important lore events aren’t present, such as Hilde and Viola. This cuts some of the chaff brought in from recent entries to the series, including funny but overly niche Dampierre and the horribly redundant Patroklos/Pyrrha combination.
New to the roster are enhanced dual-sword wielder Grøh who can switch between fighting in a staff style or splitting the swords apart to dual wield in a style reminiscent of Darth Maul, as well as antagonist Azwel who essentially replaces Algol as a superhuman character able to summon various weapons at will. Both characters feel strong, with Grøh acting as a great “first play” character able to help new players ease into the game while Azwel offers a high number of technical complexity with his multiple stances and weapon combinations.
The Calibur series is known for bringing unexpected guest stars with previous visitors including Ezio Auditore (Assassin’s Creed) and Kratos (God of War), becoming infamous for including Darth Vader and Yoda in SC4. Soul Calibur VI is no exception, this time drawing Geralt of Rivia from the Witcher series into the action, whose fans will be happy to know that the White Wolf feels authentic and lovingly implemented; every hack and slash feels natural to his fighting style including having each of his swords be useful in different situations, and he can spend portions of his power meter on casting trademark signs like Igni or Yrden at his foes.
Beyond witcher signs, the power meter is used by all characters to execute their most powerful attacks. Critical Edges — the super moves of Soul Calibur — return to VI, being a devastating combo of moves which drains more health the weaker your enemy currently is, while new to the series are Reversal Edges, which operate as an improved guard able to block most attacks, triggering an Injustice-esque clash with each attack button able to beat a button pressed by the opponent in a rock-paper-scissors style format.
While on the surface reversal edges may sound like a guessing game with hitting a random button and hoping for a good outcome, it’s actually fairly nuanced as each character responds to the various inputs in predictable, learnable ways. For instance, if you’re facing ring-out monster Astaroth, you can reasonably expect him to go for a B attack during a reversal edge, as that attack ends with a colossal throw that’s more than capable of ringing out your character from a long distance and immediately winning the round, so hitting A will generally win. Learning each character’s various attacks and combos out of reversal edge clashes becomes one of the most important parts of competitive play.
Soul Charges are another new mechanic; instead of gambling a meter charge on one big hit with a critical edge, soul charge powers up your character for a short time, increasing damage done as well as unlocking additional moves for certain characters. Guard Impacts, which cost a portion of meter in earlier installments, are now free of cost as part of making the game more accessible to newcomers, as are lethal hits — a powerful strike that shatters an opponent’s armor, increasing the damage they receive for the remainder of the match.
For single player modes, the big draws are two different but intersecting story modes. Soul Chronicle acts as the standard story mode but departs from the usual “pick a character and win the story from their perspective” deal that drives fighting games. Instead, there’s one established canon storyline featuring Kilik, and as you progress through you’ll unlock the timelines for each other character so that you’re able to experience what each was doing and when. It’s an interesting format that feels cohesive and well thought-out, with characters overlapping in their various quests.
Libra of Souls, meanwhile, is a more fleshed-out mode akin to past Edge Master modes — you’ll start by creating a character who’ll proceed to journey the world participating in quests, helping locals, and bumping into the main cast at regular intervals. While lacking the voice acting of the Soul Chronicle mode and thus relying on large amounts of text and static screens, the storyline continues at a decent pace. Interestingly, as you meet the main characters along your journey, details from those encounters are added to the Soul Chronicle timeline, further fleshing out what each individual was up to at any given moment.
Online play wasn’t available much — we’ve been playing the game pre-release after all, so only other reviewers and those sneaking early copies home from retailers are online — but the matches I found were surprisingly smooth. While Soul Calibur VI‘s online beta had occasional lag and stuttering, the netcode for final release seems to be vastly improved, and certainly feels more reliable than that of some of its predecessors. Vitally, combat never drops below the base 60fps, though loading times felt a little long at times.
Character creation, a strong feature for the Calibur series, returns with the usual array of equippable items, color combinations and tons of patterns to overlay and customise, although the general selection available did feel a little flat, perhaps due to the time limitations imposed on the small team allocated to developing VI.
Certain items are initially locked and need to be purchased using currency earned during Libra of Souls, which can also be spent on museum unlocks to browse articles such as FMV and concept art for each game in the twenty year history of Soul Calibur.
All in all, Soul Calibur VI feels like a familiar friend returning home after a long absence. Smooth gameplay, visceral clashes and easy to jump into whether you’re new to fighting games or a technical veteran, VI is the fresh start that Calibur fans have been waiting for.
Buxom girls with cheeky costumes and sassy one-liners: SNK Heroines revels in offering a more lighthearted, comedic fighting game for SNK fans to jump into and mess around in.
Pulled into a different dimension and outfitted in outlandish costumes, cast of SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy find themselves forced to fight by an ominous, theatrical villain looking to collect and capture beautiful women the world over.
A perky brawler
Featuring memorable characters from SNK’s decades-long history, SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy brings together some of the most popular women across classic fighting series such as King of Fighters, Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting, as well as pulling characters from some of their pachinko machines, including Shodown‘s Nakororu, Shermie, and the ever-popular Mai Shiranui. Terry Bogard returns too, but… not quite as you remember him.
Presumably with a more casual audience in mind, SNK Heroines feels like a stripped-down (excuse the pun) fighting game. Fighter staples such as complex combos, frame-specific evades and counters, and even crouching — all gone. Heroines instead favors a more button-mashing approach, allowing for combo attacks with a constant press of just one single key, and a character’s super moves another one button press away.
It’s a little jarring regardless of whether you prefer more technical fighters like Soul Calibur or more execution based titles like King of Fighters; play in Heroines mostly revolves around maximizing use of dash escapes and gratuitous use of the new dedicated block button, which blocks virtually every attack in the game (barring throws, of course).
Heroines makes no effort to pretend to be the next big Evo regular. Instead, it seems more like a fun little brawler than you can mess around on with friends.
The game revolves around a tag mechanic with each player choosing two characters from the roster to play with, though if you jump into Heroines expecting a Tekken Tag style match you’ll be quickly surprised. Both characters on your team share a health pool instead of having separate, slowly recovering health, so swapping between characters is more to mix up your attacks and utilise their separate stamina bars (power meters).
Interestingly, simply depleting your opponent’s health to zero won’t knock them out for a victory. Once a player’s health bar reaches critical, they’re ready to be taken down by a Dream Finisher — a stylish special move that, if it connects with someone in critical health, works as an immediate KO. Dream Finishers are the only way to win but have a small wind-up window and are heavily telegraphed much like a Street Fighter super, so they can be tough to land against a skilled opponent, and they drain much of that stamina bar to cast.
In addition to regular attacks and combos, SNK Heroines mixes combat up a little with random quirky items such as mines and bananas, collected from random placements on the stage that can later be fired around the arena. It brings a strange hint of Super Smash Bros to Heroines, and further enforces SNK’s lighthearted, casual approach to the title.
SNK Heroines all of the usual game modes you’d expect from a modern fighter — online and local versus, story, survival and training modes, as well as a gallery for checking out various movies, audio and artwork from the game. The story mode is very short and perhaps the weakest part of Heroines, though there are some nice touches with how your chosen team talks to each other, especially interactions between characters who either already know each other from their own universe or have very different personalities.
The game also allows some simple customisation for how your characters can look. Each has two additional outfits that can be unlocked, typically one being a key or original outfit from their origin franchise, and the outfits can be further customised by adding accessories, which can range from monocles and bangles to animal tails and silly hats. While not comparable with extensive custom builders that the likes of Calibur offers, it’s still nice to be able to play around and see how silly you can make a character look.
While some may initially dismiss it as “XCOM with spies”, Phantom Doctrine is far richer than that, standing strongly on its own merits with an evolving story of espionage and domination.
Turn-based tactical shooter Phantom Doctrine doesn’t bother hiding its influences; instead, it smartly takes the most useful parts of its peers and blends them with a number of new features to build a fresh experience that XCOM fans should take a look at.
Spy VS Spy
Phantom Doctrine taps into the classic espionage tales of yesteryear, centering around an array of shady characters and unravelling how they, and various governmental figures, are connected. The story is a little pulp, and while the acting can feel a little flat, the story as a whole feels interesting. The story also changes depending on how you choose your initial background, with three different key backgrounds to choose from (CIA, KGB, Mossad), one of which is initially locked for reasons clarified late in the story.
One of the main ways Doctrine pulls you into its story — and one of the ways it differentiates itself from XCOM — is through the use of basic detective work. While missions are the standard boots on the ground turn based tactical action you’d expect, the downtime between them is filled with sending agents out to collect intel on various enemy targets, and putting together photos, intercepted communications and dossiers in classic strings and corkboard fashion.
Each piece of intel gathered by your ever expanding roster of agents is linked to names and places, which you’ll often have to pick out from semi-redacted memos and wire communications. You might be working on a case involving a John Doe, who you know works with Hell’s Angels, and later find a useful piece of intel which connects the Angels to the CIA, ultimately linking Doe to the CIA and opening up new leads to investigate on the map.
The world map is where you juggle your active agents, sending them out to investigate cities with suspicious activity. Not all leads pan out, but sometimes you’ll discover new sources of intel about those working against you, and even unlock informers — useful citizens who are able to regularly disclose detailed secrets, such as enemy intel or blueprints for new agent equipment. Naturally, informants draw the ire of those whose secrets are being spilled, and they’ll regularly become endangered, enemy agents threatening to assassinate them unless you send agents to intervene.
While sending out your agents is relatively straightforward at first, soon you’ll discover the dangers of spreading yourself too thin. Keep all of your informers well protected, and you may not have enough experienced agents to carry you through your next big mission. And while agents out in the open gather intel and gradually earn experience, they’ll also attract heat over time, blowing their cover and reducing their chances of success until they can go to ground for a while.
All of this heat reflects back on your own base, too; enemies have spies of their own, and over time your base will become increasingly more endangered, meaning you’ll have to pack up your headquarters and move to a new locale.
License to Kill
The core gameplay is of course the turn-based shootouts, where you’ll need to take down enemy agents, rescue and extract hostages or high value targets, and secure valuable intel to aid with the investigation board. XCOM veterans will settle in comfortably at first, but there are a number of key differences in how Phantom Doctrine approaches combat missions in general.
While the XCOM series has been pushing towards Syndicate style faster paced gameplay, encouraging players to rush in and take down foes quickly, Doctrine favors a slower pace and a more tactical approach overall. Agents can be sent to scout a combat mission beforehand if you have the time and agents available, which opens up support abilities such as having spotters reveal areas through the fog of war to avoid ambushes or better plan an attack.
Equipping disguises will allow your agents to trespass through areas where they’d otherwise trigger alarms, though doing so restricts their weapon loadout — scientists or office staff don’t typically walk around with assault rifles on their back, after all. Smart use of support skills and exploring mission areas in disguise quickly become essential to success, as enemies are very quick to hunt and take you down once they’re alerted to your presence, with reinforcements regularly called in every few turns to make sure you don’t get complacent.
In fact, Phantom Doctrine has a surprisingly tough difficulty curve, regardless of whether you’re coming from similar games or new to the genre. While the first 5-10 hours are fairly straightforward and serve as an extended tutorial, the remaining 30-40 hours of gameplay abruptly shifts into full speed, and it can feel a little jarring to suddenly start failing missions multiple times over.
The gameplay is interesting enough to warrant pushing through, but repeatedly playing through some of the highly demanding missions can take a toll, and it’ll dissuade more casual players who just want to see the story through to its conclusion. If you prefer playing these games in a stealthy, low combat approach then Doctrine is perfect; those who like going in guns blazing will quickly find that enemies here will readily gun you down before you can blink.