Cards Against Humanity: Design Pack Full Spoiler

2 08 2015

During the fasting periods between the mainline expansions, the Cards Against Humanity team has recently been generously producing little snack-packs to satiate consumer hunger, such as the 90’s Pack and Nostalgia Pack that whet the appetite. While most of the content from those mini-expansions caters to specific tastes, they haven’t generally strayed far from the format and formula of the core game. Not so with the arrival of the recent Design Pack, in which the “Now For Something A Little Different” switch has been flipped.

The Design Pack at first glance appears to contain 29 cards with the familiar white card backs, but upon the turnaround you’ll find that each is adorned with full-bleed, full-color artwork akin to something like the cards from Dixit, albeit with a predictably obscene slant. Each card is unique, and appears to be something of a tribute to George Carlin’s renowned “seven words you can never say on television” bit. As expected the imagery is mostly as “colorful” as the game’s language.

As amusing and unexpected as the content of this mini-expansion is, I have a hard time seeing how it would integrate if one were to mix it with the base game in the way that it is typically intended to be played. I can’t envision these image cards as cogent responses to many of the black card’s prompts. Perhaps it is better to think of this pack as a piece of quaint bonus content, akin to something you would see from one of their holiday promotions. But another exciting possibility is that it is an experiment with the production of full-colored cards for a future project, as the visual quality of these cards is rather impressive.

Speculation aside, if you are curious as to the particulars of the content, hit the link to the next page to see them all laid plain. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this at this point but you probably shouldn’t peek at these if your boss or grandma is watching (unless they’re into it).

GO TO PAGE 2 FOR THE FULL SPOILER. WARNING: NSFW (duh)





Street Fighter V Beta Impressions Pt. 1

27 07 2015

It’s been everything but smooth sailing for the turbulent opening days of the Street Fighter V Beta, but I was able to log enough time to make a few observations and make a few impressions as I familiarize myself with the game. Keep in mind that as this is an ongoing beta, anything I mention could change, even between beta events.

I’ll start with a few general/system notes and then move on to the characters I studied.

Higher damage/Lower health

One very noticeable difference is the much lower health compared to previous Street Fighter installments that makes the field of play much more lethal. It’s not unusual for meterless bread-and-butter combos to take off 25% health or more, and landing a combo with full super meter can easily lop off 50% or more of the victim’s life bar. Risky plays have a much higher payoff but are equally more punishing for a failed attempt. This obviously makes the rounds go by more quickly but also makes each moment-to-moment decision during play more meaningful; each gamble and opening becomes a much bigger investment for the combatants and I found myself more intensely focused as a result to find those opportunities. Another factor of this change means that there is greater comeback potential, and the matches are more tense and exciting as a result.

Safe, defensive play is more difficult

One of the resounding criticisms of Street Fighter IV was there were numerous ways to neutralize risk and get out of dangerous situations which became a cornerstone of high level play. In Street Fighter V many of these factors have been removed. For one, there is no mechanic that allows fighters to cancel their moves to remove the commitment to those attacks, for example using Focus Attack Dash-Cancel to cancel a shoryuken in SFIV, which means that each and every time you use such a move you commit to the potential consequence of the move missing its mark. Backdashing has no invulnerability (although you still count as being airborne and therefore cannot be thrown) so it is no longer a constant get-out-of-jail-free card that can be used to escape situations over and over. “Option select” defensive techniques such as crouch-throw-teching has similarly been removed purposely to further trim out go-to defensive techniques that cover a wide variety of things the opponent might try when they have you cornered. Finally, even simply blocking has the disadvantage of taking chip damage from normal attacks, although the damage taken in this way is recoverable over time as long as your opponent doesn’t land a successful hit.

Meter management is more important

The super meter is now only divided into 3 subdivisions down from 4 in the previous iteration. As a result you have less resources to throw out EX moves generously and you have to make important decisions quickly as to whether it’s worth burning some bar to use such a move, especially given the huge damage potential of landing a Critical Art and also being mindful of the opponent’s comeback potential if you don’t tack on that little bit of extra damage to close out a round.

Easier execution raises the bar instead of lowering it

One of the most notable differences is that in general the inputs for performing damaging combos and some special moves have been made more lenient in an effort to make the game more accessible. In SFIV there were important combos that required 1/60th of a second timing in order to perform, while in SFV these “link” combos have been made more lenient on their input timing. While at first glance this would appear to be a move to cater to beginners and make the game more approachable to the novice, it also sets a certain precedent that mastery of these techniques is a basic demand of the competent player. Dropping your combo or flubbing your special move is now a much more fatal mistake, since you have to assume that the opponent is less likely to make the same error when the opportunity arises.

Ryu

-MP one of his best buttons

Ryu players will find themselves using his MP button much more than in any other iteration. The reach of this move is noticably further, and it can link into itself for hit-confirms and is the starter for his target combo MP HP HK, as well as being cancelable making this one of his most useful poking and footsie tools. Similar to previous games if you land an air-to-air MP, you can follow up with an EX special move or even a Critical Art upon landing.

-Denjin mode incredibly threatening

Ryu’s V-trigger makes him tremendously dangerous by giving him access to the Raidou Hadouken. When in Denjin mode, fireballs can be charged up by holding down the button to give them guard-breaking properties at maximum charge, making his fireball gameplay a huge threat. While the opponent is unlikely to let you land a full-charged fireball from the neutral game, the EX fireball charges up significantly faster, try canceling into it when the opponent is scared for a possible setup. Upon a successful guard-break, use forward HP to lunge in and follow up with MP into his target combo or anything else for staggering damage.

-Fireball zoning less effective

Hadoukens are still an integral part of Ryu’s gameplan but you must be much more mindful about tossing them out. The characters have various tools spread amongst them such as Bison and Nash’s V-skills specifically to counter fireballs, and the higher damage of the game also makes a good read by the opponent hurt a lot more if they catch you throwing a hadouken when you shouldn’t have. Furthermore, even the time-old crouching MK, hadouken string is punishable on block at certain ranges by certain characters.

-Hit confirms important to see if opponent is crouching

Many of Ryu’s combos that use the target combo string will whiff on the final HK if the opponent was crouching when they were hit. If you know the opponent is crouching, try throwing in a crouching HP which will force them to stand, then cancel into a special move/critical art.

-Don’t try to abuse parry

Ryu’s V-skill Mind’s Eye closely emulates the Third Strike parry system, but don’t be tempted to overuse it. The main fatal flaw is that there is a whiff animation if the parry doesn’t catch anything, potentially causing you to eat a counter-hit. Also note that you can’t parry while airborne.

-MP shoryuken invincibility

A very key thing to know is that currently the MP version of Ryu’s shoryuken sports the most invulnerable frames. Outside of combos, the MP shoryuken should be your default when fishing for reversals or to stuff an obvious attack attempt.

Birdie

-Not really a grapple character, well rounded toolset

Birdie is currently the only character with a command grab, but landing his command grab is not the centerpiece of his gameplan like it is with more traditional grapplers like Zangief. Instead, Birdie has a well rounded selection of moves to make him threatening in a variety of situations. Most of his reliable damage comes from landing simple heavy-hitting attack strings rather than his special grab.

-MP HCF+MP is your go-to punish

Birdie’s standing MP is an incredible move. It has lengthy reach and is special cancelable. Cancel into the MP Bull Head for easy 20% damage when the opponent does something unsafe.

-Jumping MP crossup, MK air to ground, HP for jump-in

Birdie has several aerial moves that are useful in different situations. MP is the closest thing he has to a body splash type attack which is crossup-capable but the hitbox doesn’t last long. You must hit with the jumping MP close to the ground in order to go into a combo. Jumping MK has a steep angle and good range making it a great air-to-ground attack. If you know the opponent is open, jumping HP is your best bet for a combo starter due to its good damage and big hit-stun.

-Armored moves

Notable in Birdie’s arsenal are some moves that have hit-absorbing properties to discourage incessant attackers. Forward HP seems to have armor when holding down the button. His variations of Bull Head also gain armor when in V-trigger.

-HP and cr. MK for footsie bullying

Birdie has exceptional range on his normal moves and he can stay at a position where he can threaten with his long reach while being out of range of the opponent’s normals. Try using standing HP and both standing and crouching MK to tag the opponent just out of the reach of their normals.

-V-skill necessary to reliably get V-trigger

Birdie has a 3-stock V-gauge meaning it takes longer to fill than other characters. Look for opporunities to use his V-skill to build the gauge in order to unleash his overpowering V-trigger mode.





E3 2015

18 06 2015

This year’s E3 was a great lead-up to some of the most anticipated titles of the year. With heavy-hitters like Halo 5: Guardians, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Call of Duty: Black Ops III just over the horizon, there was even more excitement to be had by the surfacing of some projects thought long-vanquished, most notably The Last Guardian, Shenmue III, and the remake of Final Fantasy VII. Here are my impressions from some of what I was able to see on the show floor.

Star Wars Battlefront (PS4)

I had been skeptical of the Battlefront series as being a simple reskin or rebranding of the perennial Battlefield franchise, but Star Wars Battlefront ended up being my favorite of the show and shattered my preconceptions. I was able to enjoy a play session in both the 20 vs. 20 multiplayer demonstration and also the 2-man cooperative challenge.

The real meat of the experience and the centerpiece of the game is the large-scale multiplayer battles in which one team represents the iconic factions of the Star Wars series; the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. In the demo level featured at EA’s main South Hall booth, an all out Imperial assault on a Rebel base on the icy tundra of Hoth was the scenario on deck in which the Rebels are trying to repel the advance of two massive AT-AT walkers that the Empire has deployed to destroy the power generators that supply the Rebel base. The asymmetric objectives and narrative setup add an element of investment and interesting gameplay differences for both sides right off the bat.

From the onset, the two factions launch towards each other in a massive infantry wave, frantically scanning the front lines for exposed targets, pushing towards boundaries in wide flanking maneuvers, and trying to gain advantageous positions amongst the rocky outcroppings and winding trenches scattered across the map. The gameplay is vastly simplified compared to other modern FPS games to focus on the core shooting and infantry tactics instead of inventory and resource management: Almost every piece of equipment that you utilize such as jetpacks, grenade launchers, and personal shields function on a cooldown timer rather than having a set amount of ammo, meaning that their usage focuses more on escalation and opportunity than trying to throw out as much of your gadgets and special weapons as possible per life. Another streamlined element of gameplay that helps keep the ground map less cluttered and more concisely focused on infantry vs. infantry is that there are no vehicles laying idly about that players have to try to capture and embark; instead acquiring a vehicle is a powerup that can be picked up around the map which players then use to “call in” an aerial fighter from off-screen, transitioning to the already-airborne fighter seamlessly (complete with a classic Star Wars-style screen wipe). Vehicles also dominate the game space to a much lesser degree, where the aerial dogfights feel like a distinctly separate space of the same conflict yet jointly contribute to the objective at hand.

The game looks marvelous and the performance was spotless. Seeing the massive scale of the armored AT-ATs as they lumber across the snow is awesome to behold and plays on the fond nostalgia of the classic franchise. There were many other great magic moments in the play session where myself or my neighboring players would lean over, eyes lit up with shameless giddiness and say such things as “dude I’m in a tie fighter” or “I just got torn up by Luke Skywalker.”

The cooperative offering featured a local split-screen challenge set in a craggy canyon of the arid Tatooine wilds. As a pair of stranded Rebel operatives, you and your partner must endure waves of incoming stormtroopers as you await reinforcement. You have to use the landscape to your advantage as the Imperium forces close in, and pick your shots especially when faced with a stalking AT-ST walker. Optional objectives provide bonus powerups such as a smart missile if you are willing to stick your neck out to recover them. The framerate/latency was noticeably lower than when playing at the multiplayer stations, likely due to the strain of rendering split-screen but still playable and gorgeous looking.

Street Fighter V (PS4)

A new chapter in the legendary fighting franchise is almost upon us and a playable build was available for the masses to sample on the show floor, both at the Sony and Capcom booth areas. The latest entry in the series feels both familiar and foreign at the same time, particularly in the core game system mechanics: Gone are the focus attacks and ultra moves from the predecessor Street Fighter IV, paving way for the new V-skill and V-gauge system. The familiar super meter remains at the bottom of the screen, but is subdivided into 3 cells as opposed to 4. Additionally there is the new red-tinged V-gauge that sits atop the super meter which is divided into segments as well, however the amount of segments and length of the V-gauge varies from character to character. The V-gauge fills up due to taking damage similar to the revenge meter in SFIV, and gives access to the V-reversal which is essentially an alpha-counter-esque move that you can use while blocking to escape pressure but also enables the character to activate their V-trigger when filled to maximum. Of note is also the presence of a visible stun gauge on screen below the health bars which serves to show the player when a character is about to enter a dizzy state from being hit too much in succession.

The V-trigger’s effect is different for each character and either enhances them in some way for the duration of its activation as the V-gauge slowly depletes or gives access to supplemental moves. For example, when M. Bison activates his V-trigger, it causes his various moves to gain evasive phasing properties but Nash’s V-trigger is actually a single-use move that allows him to
instantly teleport to a position on the screen for a sudden repositioning maneuver.

Additionally, each character has a unique V-skill that is used by pressing both medium attack buttons, and similarly has a different unique effect for each fighter. Ryu’s V-skill is reminiscent of Street Fighter III’s parry that can catch attacks and allow him to respond more quickly than blocking, while Chun Li’s V-skill is a short hop that launches her low off the ground and opens up more variation in her aerial approaches.

There were 6 warriors playable on the show floor, including fan-favorites Ryu, Chun Li, M. Bison, and Cammy. Returning from the Alpha series is the burly grappler Birdie and the enigmatic Nash, a character previously thought to be canonically dead but now returned as a partially-cybernetic vengeful revenant. Most of the classic characters’ gameplay is comfortable and largely unchanged, whereas others have had substantial revisions. M. Bison has lost the ability to use Psycho Crusher as a normal special move, but gains a few new tricks in his arsenal that unleash bursts and geysers of his signature purple energy. Nash now uses fireball-motion inputs to utilize his special moves rather than charge moves similar to Guile as he had in his previous appearances. Changes such as these are an exciting prospect for a long-running series and incites curiosity on what other characters we will see return and what new tricks they will have at their disposal.

Rainbow Six: Siege (Xbox One)

Of the innumerable entries into the staleing FPS genre, once in a while an outlier will appear that may just set the new precedent and turning point for the genre. Rainbow Six: Siege is a game that mixes some of the sensibilities of the older age of FPS combined with new fresh concepts that challenge modern conventions of shooters. The small 5 vs. 5 game along with the lack of instant respawns in a round create an incredibly tense experience where every subtle movement matters and careful play and tactics is favored over reckless charges. The other centerpiece of Rainbow Six: Siege is the destructable aspects of the level where holes and can be breached in most any wall to create sudden openings and routes to surprise and outmaneuver the enemy.

Rock Band 4 (Xbox One)

Having been a dedicated follower of the Rock Band franchise in the previous generation, Rock Band 4 was one of my must-see attractions for the show but it was ultimately the least exciting for me. I could scarcely tell that I wasn’t playing Rock Band 3 aside from the new track list, with the only apparent new gameplay offering being the ability for the guitar player to unleash freestyle solo riffs similar to the drum track. I was informed that equipment from the previous console generation should be compatible with the new incarnation, which is definitely a big plus, but it remains to be seen what else will incentivize players from coming back for another tour of the series.

Guitar Hero Live (Xbox One)

One of the originators of the popularity of the instrument-game genre returns featuring a new controller that has six fret buttons which are positioned in two rows of 3 rather than straight down the neck. Apart from the new hardware, Guitar Hero Live also features live action video recordings from the perspective of a guitarist at a real concert show which is a cool addition.

Xbox Elite Controller

While I didn’t actually play anything on the floor with the new hardware, I was able to handle the new peripheral and discuss some of its talking points with an exhibitor. The Xbox Elite Controller is a newly announced official controller for the Xbox One which for all intents and purposes functions like any other controller but has some really nice extras for a player who wants to customize their tool of the trade for enhanced performance and comfort. The additional features beyond the standard controller include magnetically swappable alternate dpad and analog sticks to change the height, bulk, and feel of the directional inputs, as well as toggles at the rear of the device that allow you to adjust the distance that the trigger buttons can be depressed. The most notable addition is the removable paddles that can be inserted into the rear of the controller that are customizable and can be programmed to emulate the function of the other buttons, so for example you could put your jump button on one of the paddles so that you would be able to access that button without taking your thumb off of the right analog stick which is typically used for aiming weapons. Despite its various useful additions, bells, and whistles, the $150 price point puts it into the territory of “would be nice to have” rather than “obvious purchase.”

Cuphead (PS4)

A visually striking game that resembles something straight out of the era of technicolor cartoons, Cuphead is an indie-produced side scrolling shoot-em-up with an unusual, head-turning aesthetic. Cuphead is playable solo or via local coop and will be making its way onto console and PC digital distribution channels soon.

Kill Strain (PS4)

A top-down isometric view team shooter with an interesting twist: There are actually 3 teams, two teams of human operatives and one team of “mutants” that begins with only two players. Each team has its own objective to win a match but the mutant team is able to infect other players and convert them to their team permanently. This interesting dynamic is a unique take on typical symmetric team shooters in that alignments can swap as the match progresses and there is a 3rd party threat at all times for each team.

Gang Beast (PS4)

A quaint but thoroughly entertaining 4-player brawler which is something like a bizarre version of Backyard Wrestling. The premise and controls are fairly simple; grapple and struggle with your opponents to try and toss them into hazards like giant fans and rock grinders on a variety of stages ranging from construction sites to industrial mills. Gang Beast has been available on Steam for a while now but is making its way to digital distribution on consoles.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)

One of the headliners of the entire show, Uncharted 4 was not floor playable but there was a live demo that featured extended gameplay beyond what was shown during the Playstation press conference (which is worth a watch if you’ve not yet seen it). Uncharted 4 looks like a technical marvel with its graphic fidelity and smooth framerate, but its real appeal lies in the high-adrenaline moment-to-moment intensity within the gameplay sequences that makes it exhilarating just to watch, let alone play. If Uncharted 4 can pack that much excitement within a span of 5 minutes, I can barely imagine what the whole game must be like.





Cards Against Humanity: Science Pack Full Spoiler

12 04 2015

Occasionally Cards Against Humanity releases themed mini-expansions such as their yearly holiday packs and one-offs like the 90s Pack or Reject Pack. This time around we’re treated to the Science Pack, filled with informed-sounding jargon and science-y references perfect for you to play with and exchange pretentious knowing glances with your learned friends that “f***ing love science.”

GO TO PAGE 2 FOR THE FULL SPOILER. WARNING: NSFW (duh)





Cards Against Humanity: Sixth Expansion Full Spoiler

4 04 2015

The CAH expansions almost seem to be outpacing the years that pass at this point, which is nothing to complain about unless you’ve got some kind of cognitive disorder. The CAH train seems to be bustling along with their yearly promotional stunts, holiday specials, and even acquisition of vast tracts of land such as “Hawaii 2,” so lets look forward to more releases and success from the CAH team! Unless, you know, you’re a shitty person or something.

Curiously, there are no PICK 2 black cards in the sixth expansion. Perhaps they are trying to adjust the ratio of single-picks to the doubles after the glut of PICK 2s from recent expansions.

If you’re wondering why there’s no 5th expansion spoiler here, it’s because by the time I got around to writing it up I discovered it was already available. Go check out the CAH page on boardgamegeek.com if you want to see it.

GO TO PAGE 2 FOR THE FULL SPOILER. WARNING: NSFW (duh)





Review: Ori And The Blind Forest

21 03 2015

Of the various announcements and upcoming games shown at E3 2014, through the onslaught of sequels and reboots there was a small unassuming flower blossoming amidst the giants. Developed by Moon Studios under Microsoft Games Studios, Ori And The Blind Forest soon became one of the talking points of the show with its captivating graphic style. However any seasoned gamer could tell you that looks aren’t everything and that both style and substance are indispensable with regards to quality games. Is Ori And The Blind Forest a prize bloom or lost amongst the weeds?

 oribanner

Within the vast forest of Nibel, a small mysterious creature named Ori comes into the world. Happened upon by chance by the benevolent Naru, Ori is taken in and lives a simple but happy life in Naru’s company. However, within the workings of the great forest, all is not well. The land’s beauty begins to fade and shrivel away, and Ori is compelled by a strange and ancient presence to venture deep within the hidden corners of the forest to restore its splendor and save everything that he knows before its brilliance disappears. As Ori leaves the comfort of his old home behind, the shadow of the fearsome and enigmatic Kuro looms over the trees; one who would see the light extinguished forever.

Ori And The Blind Forest is a 2D platformer game with exploration in the style of “metroidvania” games in which the player must traverse a variety of challenging landscapes and as they uncover new abilities and movement options new areas and hidden secrets become accessible. There is also an RPG-esque leveling system that allows players to augment Ori’s combat abilities, exploration methods, and endurance with experience that accumulates from defeating foes or finding hidden boosts tucked away within the different areas. Ori’s adventure is concise and focused without feeling restrictive or railroad-y, taking about 10 hours to complete.

Of all of the things that would draw a player into the experience, the stunning visuals are the main hook. Absolutely magnificent and wondrous to behold, Ori And The Blind Forest may be the most gorgeous game I have ever beheld. Every single moment of the game radiates an incredible sense of beauty and magic; each environment is painted lavishly to have character and visual punch in every aspect. In an era of modern games with heavy emphasis on hyper-realism and graphic fidelity, the painterly look and fantastically rendered world fills a space that was dearly lacking. It is difficult to put to words how unbelievably beautiful the scenery is, so here, have a look for yourself:

Adding to the brilliance of the experience is the wonderful sound design. The majestic and haunting score hits all the right notes at the right moments and is as much a part of the soul of the game as the exquisite visuals. The sound effects of all the different facets of the environments and characters fits perfectly and makes it as much a treat for the ears as for the eyes.

Aesthetics notwithstanding, Ori is a winner in the gameplay department as well. While there’s little that hasn’t been done before in similar platformer-exploration games, Ori And The Blind Forest delivers solidly on its conventions and melds all of its mechanics elegantly. Ori handles well; his movement is natural and responsive making the platforming element of gameplay–which is the core of the experience–a solid foundation demanding just the right amount of planning, reflexes, dexterity, and timing to feel difficult enough to provide a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment but surmountable enough to keep the game’s pace flowing and provide the simple pleasure and sensation of continuous movement. The sense of progression as the player acquires new abilities feels just right, introducing new methods of movement at regular intervals that allow Ori access to previously unreachable areas and offer new approaches to navigating previous sections. Each addition lets you view retreaded segments in a fresh perspective, as dangerous areas become trivial to speed through and enemies become tools for moving around in clever ways. Puzzle elements comprise another large part of Ori’s adventure and are done well, encouraging thoughtfulness and use of Ori’s capabilities in unorthodox ways without being too obtuse. The game is undeniably challenging but rarely punishing due to Ori’s Soul Link ability which allows the player to save the game at virtually any time, allowing instant retries to particularly tricky sections of traversal or combat; there’s no “game over.” During my playthrough I accumulated nearly 230 deaths but never once did I feel like I skipped a beat.

On top of everything else, Ori And The Blind Forest also has a fantastic story woven throughout the game. A simple but powerful, moving narrative of love and sacrifice underlies Ori’s adventure that will strum at your heartstrings as it unfolds through the gorgeous sights and sounds. The plot is mostly storybook affair, but rather than reducing to a simple struggle between light and darkness Ori’s tale rides on some meaningful themes and at times is deeply touching.

There is very little to complain about as far as stumbling points, but at a few times throughout the game the difficulty suddenly seems to jump dramatically and will demand of you one-perfect-run for a lengthy gauntlet of hazards. If there was one feature I would have wished for, it would have been a way to teleport to waypoints across the fairly vast world instead of having to navigate all the way through the areas again to retread for previously inaccessible pickups. There are a few imperfections on the technical side, but they occur so infrequently that they are forgivable. There is very occasional slowdown on the Xbox One version of the game during intense action with lots of particle effects, but almost never in a way that affects the flow of the gameplay or jolts you into fumbling a precise series of maneuvers.

If there was ever a decisive piece of evidence for the games-as-art argument, it is this one. Beautiful in both visuals and play, it can be confused for nothing else but a work of art, and a superb one at that. Every aspect comes together to form a truly amazing game that you never knew you needed until it is in your hands. For the modest asking price of $20, Ori And The Blind Forest is an experience that simply cannot be missed.





Review: Evolve

16 02 2015

From the studio that spawned the Left 4 Dead games comes a new unique breed of FPS shooter aiming to establish itself as a new order in the game kingdom of team-based competitive game where either side is evenly matched, but couldn’t be more different. Will this genetic anomaly be a chapter or a footnote in the xenobiology books?

evolvebanner

The tale of Evolve’s world is played out in deadly confrontations across various sites of the lush but savage planet of Shear, where a few outposts of humanity have emerged to attempt to colonize and tame the new frontier in hopes of establishing a new home for our species. However, the planet is teeming with hostile wildlife and “megafauna” including giant alien super-predators that stalk the crags, swamps, and forests. A crack team of hunters from all corners of the galaxy is dispatched as a countermeasure to combat the threat of these monsters in a bid for control and survival in the unforgiving wilds of Shear.

Evolve is a multiplayer-focused asymmetrical online FPS game. One team of 4 players assume the roles of the hunters, comprised of different roles and specialties that must work together as a cohesive unit against the 5th player, who controls one of the massively powerful monsters in a scenario-based match played in a vast level strewn with vegetation, bizarre wildlife, and monolithic remnants of colonist construction projects. At the onset of each game, the monster is a underdeveloped juvenile, and must evade the team of hunters as it feasts upon prey animals and grows ever-stronger, eventually reaching its full strength and becoming a force of nature that can devastate its enemies within seconds. The hunters and the monster must outmaneuver each other amidst the rocky caverns and vegetation of the expansive maps in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse where the tables can turn at any moment and the line between predator and prey is thin and blurred.

The hunter characters are divided into 4 different classes: Medic, Trapper, Support, and Assault. Each specializes in a different method of combating the monster and has a specific role to fulfill towards their team’s success. Medics dispense healing and keep the team on their feet, and have several other useful tools like tranquilizer guns to sedate the monster and slow its movement. Trappers are integral to containing the monster and prevent it from fleeing a losing battle with their various tracking equipment and harpoon guns. Support is a flexible class that brings an assortment of useful tools to the table, ranging from group cloaking devices, calling in orbital bombardments, to shielding units that can protect teammates from harm. Finally, the Assault class is the front-line fighter that devotes itself solely to dealing heavy damage to the monster to bring it down with excessive firepower. Within the 4 roles, there are 3 different characters per class that each go about their job in a different way and offer some variety to the playstyles and strengths of the class.

Players can choose from 3 different hulking monsters when playing the opposition, each with a different style of play and methodology. The brutish Goliath is an unstoppable juggernaut that relies on its tremendous strength and unwavering toughness to pound the hunters to a pulp, whether it engulfs them with a stream of clinging flame, tears boulders from the ground to fling like a catapult, or simply throws the destructive weight of its bulk crashing into its enemies. The sinister Kraken prefers to fight from afar, bombarding its foes with blasts and bolts of bio-electricity as it hovers aloft like an angry thunder-god, drifting across battlefields with the malicious presence of a boiling storm cloud. Lastly the slippery Wraith rewards stealth and subterfuge as it slithers through the terrain, with its strange warping abilities to use misdirection and its evasiveness to lure hunters into deadly ambushes at the hands of its reaper-like rending talons. Playing as the monster is certainly the most unique and fresh aspect of Evolve, and there’s something primal and satisfying about controlling one of these dread monstrosities that speaks to the soul’s hunger for destruction; the bestial id within that lurks in the darkness of the heart of the player, straining against its cage.

Playing Evolve is a tight and engaging experience that is focused and expertly crafted. The 15 to 20 minute matches are tense and well-paced where lulls in activity foster a sense of dread and the sudden explosion of violence from a run-in with the monster provides a hot, frantic rush of adrenaline. Playing as the monster manages to provide both a sense of progression and a driving immediacy and the solitude of being pitted against 4 other players but still on level playing ground makes you feel both vulnerable and addictively powerful at the same time. There is a slight learning curve to get acclimated to the various tricks and trades of both the monster and hunters that is satisfying to climb and has a sweet-spot balance of depth and intuitive aspects and the diversity of the ability interactions as well as the composition of the various maps presents lots of opportunities for counter-play and outwitting the enemy. The glory of victory is distinctly different whether singlehandedly overpowering your foes as the monster or conquering your quarry with teamwork and synergy as the hunters.

Visually and aurally, the game also shines. The verdant groves and twisting canyons of Shear are as captivating as they are dangerous, with strange alien growths and otherworldly vegetation and mineral formations that crack and shatter against the hide of a rampaging creature or a roaring torrent of high-tech gunfire. The hunters all have personality and simple but pleasing designs, but the monsters are where the game really flexes its visuals. Tooth and nail, spur and scale, the creature cast is fearsome and awesome to behold as they skulk, pounce, and eviscerate with their jagged teeth, undulating tentacles, and tree-snapping tails in tow. The games’ minimal HUD and visual language are concise and unintrusive, never dulling the feast for the eyes but conveying just the important pieces of information. The hunters’ banter, the report of the futuristic weapons, and the gurgling hisses of the creatures all meld together as a visceral treat for the ears.

For all of Evolve’s strong points, there are a few points of contention. Most notably the content seems sparse especially for players just getting their hands wet. Upon initially launching the game, only 1 hunter of each class and 1 monster is available for use and the others must be unlocked by fulfilling various requirements for the characters/creatures preceding the next. While this is probably meant to be a device to get new players well-versed in basic concepts and core aspects of gameplay using the more straightforward characters, it forces players to “grind” and have several repeated runs with the starter selection in order to unlock options to experiment with. Secondly there is already a bevy of additional content for purchase and the aggressive DLC focus is a bit troubling; there is already nearly $87 worth of add-ons available for purchase within the first week of the game’s launch. Granted most of these extras are cosmetic, but with 2 new monsters and 6 new hunters supposedly on the way, with the currently announced pricing there is forseeably $75 worth of gameplay-relevant content alone in the future. Such a high asking price for add-ons is somewhat unprecedented even in this current generation in which DLC has been embraced as commonplace, and there has already been considerable backlash regarding this game’s content release schedule.

Despite a few concerns, Evolve has a great many strengths that send it towards the upper end of the food chain. While it may not be the perfect organism, it represents an interesting mutation of a oft-retreaded genre and a fascinating new experience that stands on its own feet (tentacles?) amidst a fiercely competitive wilderness of FPS games as an evolutionary success. In a land of devour-or-be-devoured, Evolve emerges as a top predator in my bestiary.