For Honored Closed Beta (Impressions)

Developed by: Ubisoft Montreal
Played on PC

Impressions is where I talk about my experiences with playing unreleased games, either at expos and conventions, or in alphas and betas. They’re done quick-and-dirty, as I’m on a limited time-frame when it comes to playing these games, and don’t feel comfortable giving an extensive review on an unreleased product that’s usually entirely gameplay-focused. Anyway, here are my impressions of the For Honored closed beta.

For Honored is Ubisoft’s upcoming melee-based multiplayer game, announced last year and due for release in a little over a week. I had the chance to play in the closed beta — though at this point, it’s one of those “obviously a demo” betas — and my conclusion is that it’s just not for me.

The game has some decent mechanics, as you have to angle your attacks unpredictably so that you don’t attack in the same direction that your opponent is blocking. It’s a nice mechanic, and it helps the game feel more polished and combat more precise. However, it’s just to easy to block attacks, so if you’re paying enough attention, you will rarely get hit by basic attacks, never mind the slower heavy attacks.

There are combos you can do with certain characters, and this gives the game more of a fighting game feel than I thought it would have. However, maybe it was just the people I was playing against, but I rarely saw anyone perform these combos. Fights generally devolved into seeing who was willing to risk getting in close to kick first and put their opponent on the defensive.

Kicking is the solution to blocking, and landing a kick breaks your opponent’s guard and stuns them, though it has a very short range. However, there’s really no defence against kicking aside from a dodge, but it doesn’t seem to be fast enough since the kick is pretty fast. The dodge is mostly used to gain distance without exiting the “combat mode”.

The game allows players to switch in and out of a combat mode, which is how you can attack with more precision via directional attacks. You can attack outside of this mode,a and you move faster outside of it as well, but these attacks are imprecise and are usually reserved for finishing off fleeing opponents or killing the constantly spawning minions on the map, which restores health.

These minions are basically those things you kill to gain exp in MOBAs, and I have mixed feelings about them. They get in the way of action and are never a real threat; merely a nuisance. But they are interesting as a way for you to throw off your pursuers, as you don’t phase through them; they can actually slow you down. Plus, they add to the scale of the combat, which is… not what the trailers made it out to be.

While the trailesr advetised giant battles like something you’d see if Battlefield and Chivalry had a baby, it’s much more tame. Matches were limited to 4v4 at largest, and most of the fighting between players takes place away from the main battlefield, which is where the minions won’t go. It’s a bit disappointing, even if I can understand why they made the decision, given how bad fights can get if there are too many participants.

And that’s one of my problems with the game, and this is something that I’m sure is just a “you need to play in a group” thing: if you’re outnumbered, run. It’s just too easy to gang up on people, but there are always people who run off solo. It’s frustrating when it happens, and unlike with other games, you don’t have a chance. You’re just screwed.

The controls, on mouse and keyboard anyway, are a bit too clunky. Movement is mostly fine, but the actual directional swinging is unintuitive.  You’re forced to enter an “attack mode” and any mouse movement from there on will direct the movement of your block and attack, and this just feels restrictive. I don’t think I ever got the hang of what key switched targets, which is the one thing the tutorial didn’t stretch out teaching you. The movement is also a bit problematic, and I’ve seen people fight by poking each other on ladders, and it just looks ridiculous.

However, the map design is pretty good. There are different levels to the maps, and they feel big without feeling like you could get lost. Navigating them is pretty intuitive, and it helps that most, if not all of them are symmetrical. looks great. Oh, and I don’t think it needs to be said, but the game

The different factions come together surprisngly well, and the aforementioned maps look war-torn without being too drab. Graphical fidelity is great, though you’ll likely not notice, with how intense this game can get.

Despite my criticism, the fights themselves, when there’s a decent amount of people switching targets and tagging in and out, are very fun. Everything has great feedback, and while mouse and keyboard controls are pretty bad, I’ve heard the game plays much better with a controller (although apparently the console betas had network issues). Controls, though unintuitive, feel fairly responsive, though there’s a sluggishness to your actions that I’m pretty sure is intentional, given the size of your character.

Speaking of which, there’s some customisation involved. Progression exists in the form of equippable items that change your stats, but I never really noticed a difference. It’s there if you want it, and I’m sure there will be some good late-game loot for those invested in the game, but so far it seems like a cosmetic thing, and that’s just what I’ve been told; I barely noticed a difference. Oh, and your characters are like heroes, complete with separate “combos”, though I really only played one character in the time I played. Also, there are faction wars, which I think is the three factions fighting for dominance of a big map; it doesn’t seem that important and you can probably safely ignore it. Inf act, dont’ worry about factions like I did before starting: they in no way affect who you can team-up with.

For Honor looks to be a game with more depth than it gave the impression it had, and that’s a double-edged sword. For players of games like Chivalry, this game is for you. It’s more polished, looks prettier, and has tons of depth. but if you’re like me and just wanted a simple, pretty game where you hack people in different directions, you’ll probably struggle to get into it. Maybe the skill ceiling was too high, since I’m told tons of Twitch streamers were playing the game, but it was just a bit too much for me. I might check out the Open Beta, I might not, but as it stands, For Honor just isn’t for me. It looks like it will be a good new IP for Ubisoft, and a lot of fun, though, so if it sounds like something you’d like, enjoy.

P.S. I forgot which key screenshots things in UPlay, so my bad for the lack of screenshots.

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Steep Open Beta (Impressions)

Played on PC

At E3 2016, Steep was an odd little duck. It felt out of place among Ubisoft’s bigger blockbuster, fantasy and sci-fi games like For Honor and Watch Dogs 2. Not only that, but it was promised to be “an entirely new genre”, which just isn’t really true (it’s a combination of genres, sure). But it looked fun, and I like sports games that take you to cool locations, so I was interested. After playing a little over an hour of the closed beta, I can safely say that interest is gone.

The gameplay itself is just astounding in how boring it is. When you hear “extreme sports sandbox” you don’t think “boring to the point of absurdity.” But that’s just what the game is — it’s just so incredibly dull that you’ll find more entertainment in writing down bullet points about it. The actual acts of skiing, snowboarding, parachuting and wingsuiting are just poorly designed. The game creates this atmosphere than encourages speed, tricks and fun, but doesn’t allow for any of it.

But actual movement feels incredibly slow, and your inability to turn precisely adds to the overall sluggish feel of the game. Everything seems to have a delay, and while this may add authenticity, I think my character surviving some amazing crashes nullifies any authenticity that the game may have. The game just feels unresponsive, even in things like the map screen! Everything takes just long enough that it doesn’t lend itself well to the speed the game goes for. And just watching your character ski or snowboard feels slow. Maybe it’s the lack of noticeable motion blur, bad camera angles (for a camera which you can’t control for some reason) or lack of good feedback, your character never feels like they’re going fast.

The act of doing tricks is over-explained in a long tutorial video, as opposed to letting you participate and teaching you as you go, and the system is just not intuitive (though nothing in this game is). Tricks require that you time the holding of a button for as long as you can, and let go for the game to “reset” your character’s position, hopefully in time so that you don’t take damage. It’s an incredibly unintuitive system that takes control away from the player, and I don’t know who thought it was a good idea. The controls in general are unintuitive, and even switching what sport you’re engaging in feels clunky, and it kind of defeats the purpose of the game. Not only that, but menus feel hidden.

Let’s end with the sole positive: the game looks nice. The snow looks good and characters leave tracks in it. There’s a nice brightness to everything during the day, and it sells the game’s Red Bull-fuelled atmosphere. The game looks good, and that’s worth something… in fact it’s all the game’s worth.

So there ya go. I was somewhat excited for this game when it was announced, and playing the beta (which is much more like a demo, given that the game comes out in  a few days) has killed any excitement that was there. Steep looks to be just a badly put together game that manages to negate what should be an obvious winning formula.

Note: The beta ended and I didn’t grab screenshots in that time, so… whoops!

ABZÛ Review – Depth and Simplicity

Developer: Giant Squid Studios
Plaforms: PC (reviewed), PS4
Date of play: 3/08/12
Play time: 98 minutes

ABZÛ is a game I didn’t really know about until a couple of months ago. But Austin Wintory tweeted about it and I follow him so I figured it must be good, if only for the music. Wintory composed the soundtrack for Journey, which is still my favourite game of all time. And that’s good, because ABZÛ is very similar to Journey. It maintains the design choices of Journey: minimal user-interface, minimalist storytelling and a focus on music and visuals (specifically architecture) to tell a narrative. At the same time, however, ABZÛ managed to carve out its own identity with a heartwarming story with a strong moral, a beautiful aesthetic and immersive (pun) gameplay. Continue reading “ABZÛ Review – Depth and Simplicity”

Unravel Review – Pulling at the Heartstrings

Developer: Coldwood Interactive
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4
Date of play: 9/02/16 – 10/02/16
Play time: 5 hours

Unravel is more known by this point for how adorable its E3 presenter is than the game itself. From his shaking hands, to his stuttering, to the fact that he brought along a doll he made on a camping trip with his family, the game seemed to represent the opposite of everything embodiment of corporate evil that is EA. But all that cuteness aside, how does the game hold up? Pretty well, it turns out. Unravel is a touching game that, while a little rough in level design, makes up for it with a touching story, gorgeous environments and a beautiful soundtrack. Continue reading “Unravel Review – Pulling at the Heartstrings”

Rise of the Tomb Raider Review – Not So Much ‘Rising’ As Cautiously Moving Up a Step

Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4 (not yet released)
Date of play: 29/01/16 – 8/02/16
Play time: 16 hours

As a franchise, Tomb Raider faded from most gamers’ memories in the last console generation. Sure, games released on those consoles, but nobody really cared. And then the 2013 reboot happened and brought Lara Croft back to the forefront of gaming. While controversial for a number of reasons, such as an increased focus on combat over platforming and a grittier story, I liked it. It was pretty, it was fun, it was engaging, and had high production values. Basically Uncharted for those of us who don’t play UnchartedRise of the Tomb Raider is more of the same. While it’s not an outright sophomore slump, I don’t get the feeling Crystal Dynamics are giving it their all after they aced their first year. Continue reading “Rise of the Tomb Raider Review – Not So Much ‘Rising’ As Cautiously Moving Up a Step”