Can You Smell What The Devs Are Cooking? Formula Fusion

Can You Smell What The Devs Are Cooking? Formula Fusion

Alright fellas, who here doesn’t know about WipEout? If you do, please skip this paragraph, if you don’t, it’s story time:

In 1995, the british software house Psygnosis, already known for…well…unique games such as Microcosm and the Lemmings saga, decided to try and make a game that combined high-speed racing, combat aircrafts and techno-trance music, with the artistic direction of The Designers Republic (a british design firm that made the logos of most of the stuff you own, probably): a fun little experiment that first got advertised in the movie Hackers (1995), with not many expectations from its makers. Surprise surprise, it was an astronomical commercial success, and became a bestseller both in Europe AND America in two months. After that came seven games and two re-releases, and the franchise grew to be one of the most respected racing games of all time, thanks to its pretty steep learning curve, blood-pumping music that, from the Tim Wright & Orbital soundtrack of WipEout 1, came to include tracks from artists like The Prodigy, Aphex Twins and Daft Punk, and captivating visual design that reached its perfection in Wip3out. In 2014 though, Psygnosis (now renamed Studio Liverpool) was disbanded by Sony Entertainment, of which it was a subsidiary, and with it the perspective of a new WipEout after the stellar 2048 for the PS Vita became unlikely.

Fin…or, not.

 

Anti-Gravity Racing Reborn

image

Enter R8 Games, a middlesbourgh based studio that in 2015 came out with quite a big statement: “we’re gonna resurrect AG Racing”, claiming to be what was left of Psygnosis after the disbandment.

AG fans rejoiced, and promptly donated to the Kickstarter campaign that, after two months, reached 175.000 dollars: the funding goal was reached, the lights were green. 3…2…1…Nope, not yet. Sadly, after the release of two Early Access alpha builds on Steam, the team went silent for a year, and most of the crowd that waited and donated left in bitterness, thinking they got scammed by some band of Con Artists, or that the game was not gonna be worth the cash anyway…until February 19th 2016.

A new track, Niagara GP, got added to the one track-one speed class build, and with it a whole lot handling and general updates, aiming to achieve WipEout 1’s ship handling model: what resulted wasn’t the best, of course, but the updates kept (and keep) coming in a steady stream since then, up to the current build, that now includes two speed classes (F4000 and F3000) and three tracks (MannaHatta, Niagara GP and Atlas Torres).

 

Welcome, to the World of Tomorrow!

AtlasTorres

As Ian Anderson of The Designers Republic (which are also on board with the project) explained in an interview, this time the setting of the game is a lot more near futuristic, sometimes borderlining cyberpunk, that distances himself from the pure sci-fi of most AG racing games and feels more “grounded”, and even though the tracks are still being refined and reworked, what we got right now is pretty convincing: MannaHatta, a street circuit coated in fog and cloudy weather, with his shining neon signs and animated billboard looks straight out of a William Gibson novel, all it’s missing is a big Coca-Cola LED panel on the side of a buiding. Niagara GP, a flooded industrial compound turned into racing track, is a blending of ruined architecture and overgrowing vegetation, a stark contrast with the cutting-edge and immaculate crafts that blaze through it. The last for now is Atlas Torres, the one in the picture above, which is incredibly reminiscent of WipEout 2048, and with its solid light bridges and “F-Zero X” tunnel at the start is meant to show the spectacular, reckless direction AG competitions are taking in this racing-dependent world.

As of now, Niagara GP is the next track receiving a reskin, that will probably feature in the next update.

 

The Art of Branding

FB_IMG_1464461812838
Some of the in-game company’s logos, made by the one and only Designers Republic.

By being not so far in the future, the setting actually helps with the designing of in-game branding: like in the original WipEout games, the tracks are filled with beautiful digital billboards designed by TdR and from the real world itself, like the british high-end computer building company Chillblast, the game developing engine Unreal Engine 4 (that powers the game, by the way) and THE Electronic Sports League (ESL), which will host professional tournaments after the full release. The in-game branding was one of the most captivating aspects of WipEout’s visual design, since made the tracks feel alive and vibrant, and gave the players a little insight of how the world turned out in that semi-dystopian future. Yeah, it’s stuff that’s mostly irrelevant in a racing game, but having always been part of the originals’ charm, i figured mentioning it would have been appropriate.

Faster, Faster!

7635ba_36ed738647e345598d5781969b774de2.jpg_srb_p_1660_392_75_22_0.50_1.20_0
A glimpse at the F4000 Teams, from left to right: RedRock UK, Wonderkind Technologies, Team R8, OK-MEN and Team Yokonomo.

And finally we talk gameplay! As far as the vehicle choice goes, you have a different ship for each speed class, going from the subsonic F4000, to the dual hulled F3000s, to the soon-to-be released F2000, the equivalent of WipEout’s Rapier Class and theoretically the fastest class, since there seem to be no plans for a “Phantom” class like in the last WipEout games. As of now, sadly, there is no craft customization outside of weapon and team choice (skin) before a race, but apparently is going to be added a Doom 2016-like system, where completing “extra” challenges mid-race (go at a certain speed for a certain period of time, for example) will unlock mods to Weapon Systems, Outer Shields, Propulsion System and all sorts of technological goodies, that will reset for each team, making the “Loyalty System” from the last WipEouts actually useful, so yeah, for balancing purposes gone are the days of the mario kart-ish weapon pickups mid-race, replaced by shield regenerators and “ammo pickups”, a la Unreal Tournament. Unchanged are the boost pads though, that now come with a little camera shake after each consecutive boost, and a “sonic barrier” effect after passing over four of them in rapid succession.

The controls are pretty similar to, again, WipEout’s, with acceleration, two airbrakes that allow better control in tight corners, and a *moderately* variable vertical pitch of the craft’s nose, but they’re still a bit off in comparison, even if the updates did their job. A particular quirk of the current build is the camera, that being fixed to the center of the track (behind your craft) sometimes makes your ship look like its steering by itself, a minor visual problem that can be solved in a couple of races, but that sometimes can be annoying.

About the races, there are currently three modes: Practice Run, Time Trial and Quick Race, all offline for now, and…yeah, there’s not much to say that’s not in their names. What IS there to say is the splendid job R8 Games did in keeping the community competitive without online modes, with monthly Time Trial Competitions where the first to place in the community leaderboard of a certain track chosen by the devs can win an exclusive and extremely sleek looking crystal trophy, depicted below.

FB_IMG_1464468595209

 

Beats To Drop

avatars-000079314237-gmd3dm-t500x500.jpg
We miss you, Tim.

Does this game have any? Sadly, it’s the weakest part of the game at this state. The current OST is made out of three tracks, chosen between a pool of community-made ones, and it’ll probably stay like this until the “proper” artists that were promised in the Kickstarter will be contacted. These are the tracks mentioned above:

Kraedt – Homebound

Seledrex – Ultraviolet

Silva Hound – Cool Friends (Veschel & Murtagh Mix)

And about what was promised in the Kickstarter, R8 Games dropped names like DUB FX, The Prodigy and Tim Wright (CoLD SToRAGE), who also composed most of the music for the first three WipEout games. Don’t get me wrong, the current music is fine, but when names like those show up it’s fairly hard to compete with them. So, again, as of now this game has 7/10 beats to drop, but it’ll probably go up from here.

 

 

 

What are those devs cooking? 

To wrap it up, those devs are cooking a breath of fresh air in the racing genre, that will still need some time to shape up as intended, but that if everything goes as planned will end up being an instant classic and a long waited return of AG Racing in the eSports scene.

The game is on Steam Early Access, if you liked what you read, go ahead and try it out!

Steam link: http://store.steampowered.com/app/389670/

I hope you found this article entertaining and somewhat insightful, this is The 3rd Runner, signing off.

Why Is It Good? Anubis: Zone of The Enders

Why Is It Good? Anubis: Zone of The Enders

 

The year is 2001, three years after the release of Metal Gear Solid, the game that introduced gamers to movie/game hybrids, a convoluted plot straight out of a Tom Clancy book on drugs, and IA with peripheral vision and that COULD. HEAR. FOOTSTEPS. A Stealth Action experience that set a new standard for videogames, like many revolutionary titles that came out in the magical year that was ’98, and after silently crawling their way through the military compound of Shadow Moses Island, players craved more, and as soon as possible…and Hideo Kojima, the mastermind behind it all, in 2001 answered to their prayers: a Metal Gear Solid 2 demo disk was included wih every copy of his brand new game, Zone of the Enders: basically Kojima’s take on Evangelion, but with less mentally damaged children and cooler mechas.

Eventually Metal Gear Solid 2 got released, violated the minds of players all over the world with its even MORE absurd plot and made, of course, even more money than the first one. So Kojima, wanting to leave the franchise open-ended, decided to go back to that semi-obscure mech franchise everybody seemed to care so much about, and decided to make a sequel to that too…after that, the world was never the same.

So, Anubis: Zone of the Enders (Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner, in the West)…why is it good? What is it that really seals the deal and makes it such a solid game? Is it the overall design and art direction that makes everything, from the D-Tier unmanned drones to the cutting-edge Orbital Frames, look like they’re the coolest of their kind? Is it the intuitive control scheme? Is it the sheer amount of content and replayability, extras included? Yes, yes, and yes, and the list could go on, so yeah, this is like finding a golden needle in a haystash full of needles, isn’t it? I say we start from the begining then, let’s analyse this a little more in-depth.

 

 

 

The first 30 minutes

 

zone-of-the-enders-the-2nd-runner-01.jpg
You’re all trapped here with me.

 

The game starts on Callisto, one of Jupiter’s moons, where our protagonist, an ex Orbital Frame pilot called Dingo Egret, now works as a Metatron miner (Metatron being an extremely valuable energy resource that powers basically everything that’s not lawnmowers and kitchen blenders): during a storm our hero follows a trail of energy signatures into a cave with his mining mecha (a lumbering pile of scrap metal that moves at the blinding speed of 15 mph), and after getting off of it to find out the source of those signatures, he literally stumbles into the cockpit of…well…you see that sick robot in the preview picture? Yeah, THAT. The Jehuty, a top of the line Super Robot built with maximum combat efficency in mind.

The cave starts shaking up, Dingo panics and starts up Jehuty by mistake, blowing up the whole cave thanks to its sheer amount of power, and has his first encounter with the Bahram Forces, a rogue militia of martian settlers that claims to fight for Mars’ indipendency, that attacks him to “get back” the Orbital Frame. Dingo, being an ex-pilot, obviously fights back, bests one of their lieutenants, infiltrates their mothership, gets shot from their leader, revived and strapped into the cockpit of Jehuty (that now doubles as a life support system) by the same lieutenant he shot down a few minutes ago…from here on out, it’s a non-stop hype train of High Speed Robot Action.

 

 

 

Plot Overview

dingo egret.jpg
All the cutscenes involving human characters are animated in 2D with occasional CGI, since modelling human characters to look like this with the game engine had pretty bad results in the prequel.

 

The story premise is simple: “yo, this totally-not-evil-looking old general is actually a psycho that wants to destroy the solar system, go off him, since you’re the one strapped to the pilot seat of the best mecha in the universe…but wait, HIS mecha is actually stronger and his fortress has a wall of COMPRESSED SPACE to protect it, so you need the best weapon to ever appear in a videogame and a software update to kill him, go get them.”

This is one of the strong points, in my opinion, because being the objective is so vague there’s a lot of room for sequence variety, so one moment you’re trying to save a martian city from Spider Tanks, the other you’re downing A FLEET OF DREADNAUGHTS by shooting the super weapon mentioned earlier into their power core at POINT BLANK RANGE…but it all feels cohesive, thanks to a solid execution, and no sequence feels out of place.

 

 

 

Gameplay and Mechanics

zoe2
When something that looks like THIS is one of your normal moves, you know you’re in for a good time.

The gameplay in itself is an off-shoot of the Character Action genre (think Devil May Cry), that slightly semplifies the attack mechanics (just one button block, one to grab, one to “dash” and one to attack, and the kind of attack, long or short ranged, changes depending on your distance from the enemy) but adds a new layer of depth by including Y-axis movement (you can fly and adjust your height), maintaining the challenge of his more “grounded” cousins. Enemy encounters work like in other similar titles: you get swarmed by various enemy types whose skills compensate each other’s, and your goal is to take them out in the most efficient way possible to move on with your objective, so again, nothing extraordinary…but the flow of the game, thanks to the intuitive control scheme, is as smooth as butter and it’s a joy to play (or to look at, if we’re talking skilled players).

Most of the boss battles are also incredibly satisfying, especially from the second half of the game onwards (with one exception, but it may be a spoiler), where the game finally lets a particularly annoying recurring boss go and starts throwing at you stuff like a moon-sized Mecha Death Star and your mentor piloting a particularly ninja-ish Orbital Frame.

 

 

 

Visuals and Sound

Scrub LEVS.jpg
Jehuty, the Vitruvian Man of robots, some say.

The HUD design, clean and sleek, with his tron-esque whites and blues, is straight out of Metal Gear Solid 2, being this game the culmination of Kojima’s “Tron Period”, the soundtrack is generally solid, has its peaks in boss themes and in a couple of sequences (the Dreadnaught Battle being the prime example), and sets the tone of the game perfectly, blending trance and classical for outstanding results, and last but not least the character and world design…well…it’s Yoji Shinkawa, do yourself a favor and look that name up if you’re not familiar with his works, because if you are, i think i said enough.

 

 

 

The Point

So, to finally end this totally unbiased (i swear, i’m being the most unbiased i can talking about my favourite game of all time) analysis/review/thing, why is the damn game good, 3rd Runner? Well, i gotta say that -at least for me- it’s the sequence variety working in conjunction with near-perfect mechanics that truly takes the cake (because art style alone doesn’t get you anywhere, sadly, even if i, first, adore Shinkawa’s style): the fact that aside from the presence of combat every sequence manages to feel unique, with objectives always shifting in order to put you and your Frame’s potential to full use, is for me what makes Anubis: Zone Of The Enders such a fun and satisfying experience…and an incredible example of how well a system like this could have been used for future, way more ambitious projects, if only Konami didn’t try to bury it after an HD Collection that didn’t live up to their selling expectations.

But i can bet that out there there’s already some indie guy, if not Kojima himself, planning the resurrection of High Speed Robot Action, because in this industry nothing ever really “dies”, it just gets a new coat of paint and goes back into the fray, ask Hideki Kamiya.

I hope you found this excuse of an analysis entertaining and somewhat insightful, and if you think something’s wrong with it, feel free to say it! Feedback is always well received. 3rd Runner out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…did i mention there’s a secret Versus Mode with playable bosses and a Gradius minigame? Because those are cool too.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome!

Welcome!

Hello, wanderer of the interwebz! Have you grown tired of hearing people complaining and whining over and over about everything in this plane of existence, because apparently it’s such a cool and smart thing to do in *le current year*? I don’t know about you, but I have. So guess what, here you won’t find any of that! Following the school of thought of the renowned WWE tag team two time champions, the New Day, i’ve decided to open a blog about (shocker) the positive things that sometimes happen in the so-called “geek” community (yes, i know, that term is outdated, but it’s more immediate, and sometimes you need to be immediate).

Because hey, everybody is ready to bash and rant, but a really small amount of people is out to praise, why not helping them out? After all, even one man can make a difference sometimes. [David Hasselhof 3:16]
So, this is what you’ll be seeing if you stick around:

– “Can you smell what the Devs are cooking?”, a column about promising Triple A and indipentent videogames that often get outshined by other, bigger hitters.

– “The Flea Market”, reviews of current and last-gen “lesser known” games…and i ain’t talking “lesser known” like when the cool kids refer to “Demon’s Souls”, i’m talking “Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket Powered Battle Cars” levels of obscurity, you know what i’m saying?

– “Why is it good?”, analyses of certain games/movies, looking for what makes them so enjoyable and memorable in their respective field. Some may be obvious, some a bit less.

– “The Devil’s Advocate”, because is the thing everyone’s hating on really that bad? Yeah, even that Call Of Duty Infinite Warfare trailer.

– General coverage of events like E3, Cannes’ Film Festival, PAX and EGX.

– Hype Moments and highlights from competitive gaming events like Evolution and Community Effort Orlando.

If you find any of this interesting, i hope you enjoy your stay!
This is The 3rd Runner, signing off.

[“Greetings from Corneria” postcard by Drew Wise Design]