Monday, December 9, 2013

A Scary Survivor Story with Starbound's Beta

A resource-rich world with dangerous wildlife.


I’m going to be honest, I hardly knew anything about Starbound. I haven’t done my research on the game, never watched any videos (well, maybe one minor one) nor read any info on its contents. I feel that sometimes it’s better to dive into a game completely blind, especially a game of this type, because you can explore things you know absolutely nothing about. There’s new surprises waiting for you that you haven’t yet experienced, and it’s a wonderful feeling being part of something completely unexpected. What I did know was that the game was similar to Minecraft and Terraria, except that you’re in a spaceship.

Someone needs torches


After extensively sifting through the multiple races based solely on looks, I went with the boring and unoriginal human, only because my peers had chosen all the other races. To spice things up, I gave him a spikey Mohawk to differentiate himself from the crowd. I learned that my spaceship lacked fuel, and is currently orbiting an alien planet. I was forced to traverse this wild habit for fuel, and the game was nice enough to provide a little tutorial for me.

Starbound is very similar to Minecraft at a first glance. Nearly the entire planet can be broken down and used to build different tools and structures. If one were really bored, one could dig apart an entire mountainside of dirt and stone, and leave a barren crater in its place.

My first few hours were grueling. I died again and again; the monsters there are merciless. Some can jump to extreme heights to catch you off guard, and a couple of hits without armor can outright kill. It also doesn't help that the monsters are randomized for each planet. A pig sized demon creature, standing on two upright legs, with eyes filled with evil, had once ganged up on me as I tried to retreat. He and his buddies were are between level 1 and 2, but at a low level they had placed a beating on me.

There are even worse creatures buried deep underground, and once I had met one with an appearance similar to an alligator, who was capable of spitting projectile sonic booms at me. In summary, there are a variety of ranged and close combat monsters. The monsters do behave in predictable manner after a number of encounters, and soon enough I was able to slay them without taking much damage.


Beware of the lurking squirrel monster

I had to keep track of my hunger bar. At first, it was difficult even getting something to eat because the monsters were tough as it is to kill, and their scrumptious alien meat drops only half the time. I couldn’t grow a farm either because I didn't have enough materials to make a simple hoe. I scavenged my way across the rugged terrain, hoping to get free myself from Starbounds sporadic difficulty, and fortunately I found a house. The house wasn't empty. Inside was a bed, with a human-like, alien creature beside it. I took no chances, wasted no time, and with a couple of strikes, I was able to bring down that filthy creature.

It was weird that, as I was about to bring another strike down upon the scary alien with my 2-handed sword, the alien cried for guards to protect it. It brings me to another point that I didn’t know about Starbound. There are NPCs. Friendly NPCs. I think I just brutally murdered one of them. I immediately slammed closed both doors in the house, to at least prevent any of these supposed guards from ripping me apart. I jumped up on top of one of the wall ledges that can hold a variety of valuables, took out my bow and arrow, and nervously waited for my upcoming doom. After 5 minutes of panic, no one came by. Relief flooded me in doses. I also learned that vases and jars can be broken, and pixels (I’m assuming it’s the game’s currency) can be found in them.



Mining is similar to that of Minecraft. A well-made pickaxe, a bunch of torches, a supply of cooked meat, and a sword is all that you would need to start mining underground. It's a dangerous road down there. There were a couple of times when I misjudged a jump and fell to my death. I once mined a small square of fine sand, and the whole ground beneath me collapsed, which also killed me. A couple of sonic boom monsters had a surprised drop on me, killing me before I was able to draw my sword out. It’s a bit creepy seeing how far I can dig down below the surface. I haven’t reached bedrock yet, if there even is one, but I would love to go there someday. Maybe the game will throw in more crazy surprises at me.

The game is still in a beta. There is supposed to be story you can adhere to, and as of right now, I’m stuck only on this one planet with towering tree-sized mushrooms. If I could somehow find fuel, maybe I could get off this planet, and check out some of the other randomly generated planets in the galaxy. I’ll wait for the upcoming character wipe for the next update. And I can’t wait to explore the entire universe.


Starbound is currently available on Steam.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Review: Farming Simulator (PS3/360)


Ja, du bist ein FARMING SIMULATOR?! I mean, are you ready to play FARMING SIMULATOR?! My years of German in high school clearly haven't paid off and they still won't as I bust out a review for the PC hit, Farming Simulator 2013 or as it is known on the consoles...Farming Simulator blank.

Giants Software are the ones behind the development of Farming Simulator, a game was found an odd hit amongst the internet and still seems to be. I've played the demo of the game on the PC and I wasn't blown away by it, but when I started playing the one on the PS3...I was kind of hooked. I'll get into that in a bit though. If you want to check out the website and maybe buy the game or get some wicked mods for the PC version you'll want to head to http://www.farming-simulator.com/.

And now onto the actual review. The game is about...well, as you'd expect. You farm. You farm a lot. You gaze out at the cars passing by and think, "What simulator are they playing?", or maybe that's just me. I imagine Driving By Farm Simulator 2013 is just as entertaining as this game, but I mean, someone enjoys these games, so I can't really criticize them.

The game gets the job done in the sense of, if you want to be a farmer or simulate the life of a farmer, you've got one of the better simulators (that I know of) in your possession. That doesn't necessarily mean the game is good though. I'm sure the one on the PC handles differently of course, but the transfer over to the consoles just doesn't seem to fare as well as the PC.

Controls play a big portion of this game and personally, I find handling a vehicle with a joystick and the trigger to be really hard as you don't want to go too fast in any of these vehicles in risk of detaching whatever accessory is tagged onto your vehicle. Can I tell you how many times I went too fast because I put too much pressure onto the R2 trigger? I don't think I've ever played a game where I cared about trigger pressure. Playing with the joystick always makes me feel as if I'm not going in a straight line and that turns out to be the case when my fields are lopsided. Stupid farming...I hate you.

Talking about the graphics is really a non issue here. I mean, if you're buying a farming simulator for the graphics, get help. Now. I will be honest in that I expected somewhat better graphics for the consoles, but beggars can't be choosers. You're just stuck with the emotionless farmer staring out into the fields of empty bliss as it serves a metaphor for the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991...or just farming. I will say that the vehicles look nice, but that's also because I live in the suburbs and didn't know any of these vehicles existed.

STORY! Just kidding, there is no story. Get out of here. It's all about farming and the game does that. It's really in depth with farming and there is almost a micromanaging aspect to the game as you work with the prices of crops and buying supplies/equipment for your farm. You can hire workers to help get the job done because you don't want to harvest a field of wheat for about 30 minutes straight unless you're a sadistic bastard like me who was too stubborn to pay for help.

Glitches seem to play a big part in this game. I'm sure you could actually go a whole game without noticing them, but god help you if you find one. If your vehicle or one of its attachments gets stuck on a corner...hahahahaha, you're doomed. I spent at least 10 minutes trying to deposit my corn and I got stuck on a gate. I hate my farming life.

The game is boring, I won't lie, but it's A FARMING SIMULATOR!!! So if anyone gets this game expecting a Last Of Us experience, you're out of your mind. If farming appeals to you or if you just want to try out the game, then Farming Simulator 2013 or the console versions are definitely for you. The console version still needs some polish added to it, but for what it's worth, it's a good simulator. I can't really say it isn't because I haven't farmed in my life let alone actually be near a farm.

Is Farming Simulator worth your money? Yeah, if that's your thing. Personally, it's not my thing, but someone else out there wants to be a farmer in the city and this game allows them to do just that! That's why we fight for freedom. Until the next review, I'm going back to the fields, and leaving you with this rating...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Review: Contrast


Let's jazz this site up with a snazzy review, see. I'm Hunter and I'm reviewing Contrast by Compulsion Games, see. Micky and the gang got this game a few days ago, see. Just keep clear of the g-men and brighten up that mug of yours as I stop doing my pre-1950s slang in order to review this indie game that you can find on Steam, PS3, PS4, and Xbox 360 that was released to the public on November 15th in North America and soon to be released in Europe on the 29th of November. Now let's get this show on the road, daddy-o.

Contrast is a platformer, adventure, and puzzle game put in one. With a twist. And that twist being that while the game is in the 3D world, the character you play as, Dawn, has the ability to blend into the shadows and platform from there. When I first saw videos for Contrast, this concept really attracted me toward the game. It's a clever concept and it looked like really interesting; to put it plain, I couldn't wait to get my hands on this game. The big question is...does it work?

Yes and no. Yes in the sense of, when it works, it works and it looks awesome. The puzzles are kind of tricky at times and timing is really needed to master some of these. The no part comes with time related puzzles. My biggest complaint with the game is that sometimes when you shift into the shadows, you can just randomly get thrown out sometimes. For example, there's a puzzle where you have to close a set of umbrellas to jump toward a collectible. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. I don't know why, but the game will just toss you out of the shadows for seemingly no reason. It's almost as if you have to pinpoint where you jump so you don't get kicked out. That alone can be frustrating to the point that I didn't want to play anymore.

But I got over that and continued on. I really like the music in this game or I should say: The small amount of music you get to hear. As you progress around the game, you'll notice that there are a lot of times where you'll be roaming around in complete silence to the point where it's creepy. Given that the game works with shadow people, this could have been the intention, but...I don't think so. The environment in general is just bland when you're not interacting with it.

Not that the graphics are horrible. The shadow and lighting effects look awesome in my opinion when you get to experience them. The character models are not really up to standards and the shadow people have really clunky movement, but I'm willing to look past that seeing as it is an independent game. I really do like the use of the shadows in this game to tell a story and I think Contrast knocks that out of the park. Is it flawless? Sadly not, but that's alright.

The glitches I experienced are not alright. The very first time I played the game, I jumped, got stuck in the walls, and had to press Start twice in order to pause the game to restart at the checkpoint. Not off to a hot start to say the least. Along with the previously mentioned getting kicked out of the shadows, the game seems to fall victim to various glitches and bugs, but that's nothing a patch can't iron out.

The story is interesting and surprisingly sad. The writing does a pretty good job of setting you into the time period. As I stated before, you play as Dawn, an older female who serves as the main ally to the younger Didi. As the game unwraps, you learn the story of Didi and her crazy family while she tries to fix everything with Dawn's help. I'm not going to spoil how the story unfolds, but it kept me interested for the most part; something a lot of games can't do nowadays.

Is this game worth your money? Absolutely. It's not perfect and there is still a lot that needs to be fleshed out and worked on, but it's an independent company and an independent game. The main aspects of the game you should focus on are the voice actors, the soundtrack, and the concept. Personally, it feels like a $10 game instead of a $15 one, but that's just personal opinion. I do like this game, but I think a bunch of things need to be worked on first. Anyways, be sure to check out the developer's blog at http://contrastgame.com/ and the official site of Contrast at http://www.contrast-thegame.com/. Maybe even pick up the game on a sale? Either way, until next time, here's my rating


Monday, November 18, 2013

Review: Atlantic by The Echelon Effect



If you're like me, finding post-rock artists usually brings a sense of tranquility and inner-refreshment to help ease yourself. There are groups out there such as God Is an Astronaut and Explosions in the Sky who are undeniably some of the most popular groups in the genre (and they're popular for a reason -- they're great), but then there are the smaller, lesser-known groups.

I came across The Echelon Effect in 2011 and have followed the artist since. This comes across like perhaps I'm some "holier than thou" music guru, but rather it's more of a testament of how good this artist really is throughout the years I've listened to The Echelon Effect. Tough day at school? Come home and dive into the epic four-album series Seasons. Traveling abroad and you need music to stamp the life-changing event into your brain? Listen to Mosaic.

Founded in 2009 and releasing EPs and albums since, Atlantic is the latest release by The Echelon Effect that finds itself in line with the superb discography already established by this artist.

Minack: First tracks usually make a big impression on listeners and Minack essentially puts you right at home with the typical sounds you'd expect out of The Echelon Effect. Low, vibrating bass compliments the high-octave melody with a simple drum pattern to tie it all together. There's a lot going on, but at the same time, there really isn't. Regardless, this three-minute track whets your appetite on what's to come later in the album where some more memorable tracks await you.

As The Lights Fade Away: Minack seemingly bleeds into this track which is just under two-minutes, but hardly feels that way; it's more or less an extension of the previous track. Both tracks together actually create a fine progression from the simple style of Minack with a warmer, richer sound of the guitar in this one. It ends much too soon in my opinion, but I'll take what I can get as far as experimentation goes.

Hidden Rocks: The first of some truly awesome songs on this album. This track also features Torsten Kinsella famously known from God Is an Astronaut which adds a lot to this track. The track differentiates itself from past recordings with vocals mixed with filters (at least it seems like that was the intended sound) that sounds more like the song attempting to guide you to a happier place mentally than anything else. The full band kicks in around the two and a half minute mark which comes off even more inspirational than the beginning, but doesn't lose its musicality and touch. Too often post-rock bands include full sets just to be loud for the sake of it, however Hidden Rocks did well to avoid going over the edge reverting back to the xylophonic (new word?) melody. Three tracks in and we're already gifted with something great.

Fallen: To some, Hidden Rocks may have sounded something outside of The Echelon Effect's norm, but Fallen follows through as the proverbial one-two punch to give listeners what they like. Kudos to the ordering of the tracks as well which judging by past history has never been a problem for The Echelon Effect, but is effort always lauded. This track starts out lightly with more high-pitch tip-toeing of a melody before the background noise kicks in to really flesh out the track. An awesome, near-60s surf rock strumming pattern of the guitar blends in seamlessly like The Driver joining the group of basketball fans after the Laker game in the movie Drive to help push the tempo. It turns this track from what may have come off as repetitive and a transitional track, to a great bridge to the following song. Towards the end, radio chatter is picked up with the following message:

"As the wind hits his face, he must shed his eyes. The sand on the beach rises with the breath of the Atlantic. Do its commands: falters and falls. It can't go far without wings or leg; even a speck gets too heavy after time. All life must find the ground once more and even that will crumble toward the core."

The quality of the voice to mimic a radio broadcast isn't necessarily great and the message itself, while fine, is far from profound (at least to me). The entire production of this 20-second or so clip is fine nevertheless and by far my favorite part about this is how it transitions into the barren, calm yet fitting intro of Marazion.

Marazion: This track reverts back to the strong, anthem-like purpose that Hidden Rocks had but encapsulated within the style of The Echelon Effect. In what's becoming a hallmark of the artist, there's a pause about mid-way in the track which has been given great care over the past releases to sound different enough to not come off as predictable. There's nothing worse than having a listener anticipate a part of a song, especially one they had never listened before, which ends up taking them out of the experience. Had I not even brought it up, no one would have noticed I bet. But this artist handles this so well that it's more of a welcomed staple than anything. The final minute of a five and a half minute track is tremendous having been built over the large majority of the song. Long, sustained chords brushed over smart noise (violin, drums, xylophone, etc.) create a hell of a sound. An outstanding track and we've just about reached the mid-way point of the album.

Masts: Solid atmospheric intro to help you come together after the strong end to Marazion. While this may have been perceived to been a throw-away song, about two-minutes into Masts, you are thrown a curve-ball as one of the more unique songs you'll ever listen to this year comes into play. Masts is a fitting name for this song, because of the sense that the sound emulates the feeling a legitimate mast must have overlooking, in this case, the Atlantic Ocean. The ebb and flow of the sound plus what surely must have been an attempt to mimic the crashing of waves in the background helps you reach this feeling of serenity. It ends far too soon because of how easy it is to make you sit back, forget everything around you and listen. A final sustained pitch ends the track before oozing over into the next one. Once again, great attention to detail by The Echelon Effect.

Dream of Dry Land: I have no idea if this was intentional, but the stomping in the background that sounds like a raged man trudging through the mud may have tied into the track's title: Dream of Dry Land. In all likelihood, it probably was and I'm giving The Echelon Effect the benefit of the doubt, but it's the little things in these tracks and the presentation that helps it stand out even among the past releases by this artist. With that being said, while very good, this doesn't reach the caliber of the previous tracks in the listing thus far. It felt more like a reprise of some of the earlier tracks than anything with the addition of the "mud-stomping". At just under four-minutes, there have been worse things done to humanity in the world.

Guiding In: I'm a complete tool for static/white noise to help make the clear, concise melodies stick out with an intention to bend your mood. It may be overdone, even in this album after Fallen (and really, unless it's a reoccurring theme, it shouldn't be done too often in an album), but at least it set up the next track.

Remember Sennen: This track features Ciaran Morahan from Codes In The Clouds who are another excellent group in the post-rock genre. Remember Sennen benefits greatly from Morahan's participation because this track ended up as my pick for the standout track of the entire album full of good ones. Piano melodies supported by the drum-set that swells to what could have been perceived to be an early climax about two and a half minutes in, turns into a guitar solo. Smooth and emotional, the guitar is complimented by the floor toms and bass drum of the drum-kit before reverting back into the full ensemble. With about 45 seconds to go, the songs eases back once more like the light, misty rain following a thunderstorm.

Panama: Atmospheric buzzing lends itself to a piano melody that sounds like it was ripped from a 90s crime-drama. It's one of the more unique sounds of Atlantic and at about three and a half minutes, it's not here for long. With it coming after Remember Sennen and before Tired Wings, it was more like a track to cool-down the listener which is a technique done to avoid overwhelming listeners with five minutes or longer tracks, even if they're all great.

Tired Wings: Most releases by any bands nowadays, while having some input into the ordering of the tracks, usually avoid directing its own listing as closely as bands such as The Echelon Effect. What feels like the culmination of a musical journey turns out to be exactly that. The first three-minutes fly by in all honesty due to how little variance there is in the sound, but past that, you're literally cast into a sea of quality music that's more or less thanking you for your participation in the ride called Atlantic. In all my years of watching movies, if there's a scene that may or may not hint at a continuation of the story, the composition of the film at that point will have the band draw out a fermata to drive into your brain that what is happening should be kept in reference for a later time. Sometimes that means there's a sequel of sorts, or perhaps it's a message you should take away from the entire movie. In this case, it's a set up for Pacific which is the follow-up album and whether or not it was intentional, it does have me waiting with much anticipation for the next release.

Overall, Atlantic, as a long-time (read: of two years) fan of The Echelon Effect, delivered on what you'd expect out of this group and the post-rock genre as a whole. What my purpose in listening to this -- besides enjoying the greatness of it all -- was if the artist could continue its high-standard of music following some of its other big releases over the years. There was a fair amount of hype amongst its followers and sure enough, it lived up to it.

If you aren't a fan of the group or even the genre, I highly recommend listening to either this or songs from any other group such as the previously mentioned God Is an Astronaut or Explosions in the Sky. Post-rock is about creating music and sounds without the use of vocals. Think of songs by any artist that you may have felt would be better off without the usage of voice. In some cases, vocals are an integral part of composing a track, but post-rock groups as a whole have proven that you don't need lyrics to find a message.

Atlantic is the latest to do just that and within a year of some highly-touted releases by bands across the entire spectrum, this may unfortunately get lost in the shuffle which is a shame. The Echelon Effect deserves to have its music shared with everyone about as much as Nicki Minaj or Ke$sha do. It's the soundtrack to a movie played in your head gathered from your memories.

Tracks such as Dream of Dry Land, Guiding In and Panama come up short to matching some of the more brilliant songs like Fallen, Marazion and Remember Sennen. But there's so much good to outweigh the bad that in summation has me feeling very confident about giving Atlantic the highest mark in our rating system.


Check out the official Bandcamp site of The Echelon Effect here. Purchase the album, Atlantic, here. Like their Facebook page. And most importantly of all, if you liked anything you heard on this album, spread the word!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Review: Adventure Park

From making G-force racking roller coasters, to setting obscene prices just to use the bathroom, nothing can be more addicting for making and managing your own theme park. Adventure Park, for the PC, sets to do this all in an easy and intuitive system. And while I was playing through this game, reminiscing about games that really solidified the theme park genre, I’ve slowly become more and more aware about the lack of polish. Adventure Park is missing some crucial aspects that were found even in the early days of Roller Coaster Tycoon. It personally feels as if the game just wasn’t completed in time.


You have only a couple of options when you boot up the game. From the main menu, there is the campaign mode, which is a tutorial of sorts with a bunch of scenarios to play in.Free play allows you pick and choose between a number of available maps. You can customize the amount of credits you start out with, like whether you have an infinite supply of money right off the bat.





The campaign mode only consists of a small number of areas to build upon. Adventure Park does a decent job of slowly introducing new ideas as you play on, such as showing how to satisfy the impatient needs of the people in the park, or how to set prices for the various attractions, including washroom stalls. I do find it strange how customers are perfectly okay for paying a buck to use the porta potty. I feel that there just isn’t enough attractions. Adventure Park is mainly about adventure type themes to build upon, like the Space Park or the Pirate Park, but compared to other games in the same genre, it feels more like a basic set of options rather than a robust set of extensive tools.


Building roller coasters is not as fun as I’d thought it would be. You cannot make bank curves or loops at all. Because of this, each custom roller coaster built feels just the same as the others, except there being steeper turns for a steel coaster, than from ones made out of wood. 

Even a custom built roller coaster you worked so hard to make cannot be saved, if you would wish to move it to a new theme park. You cannot move the attractions you place on the park. If, for instance, you accidentally place your free-fall tower at the edge of a cliff, your only option to relocate the tower is to sell and buy a new one. There goes all your upgrades. It's even worse if you want to relocate your roller coaster.





One thing I did enjoy is the star system that rewards you for your good progress. Over time, as you complete missions like building specific buildings, or getting your park rating to a good and friendly percentage, you’re rewarded with new buildings and upgrades to experiment with. An upgraded porta potty, for example, will have premium double layered toilet paper to clean even the most dirtiest of butts. 

With every new star, each visitor will be more demanding, putting you on the edge to satisfy their increasing needs. One might complain about there not being enough decorations around, or another may find that the current rides are too boring, and that they need a new adrenaline rush. Staying on top of success is fun and rewarding.



Spooky kids.


There are hardly any sound effects whatsoever, except for the chirping of birds and the very silent grumbling of a cart traversing on a roller coaster. Again, it feels like the developers forgot to add more immersive sound effects. There are only a few songs that are constantly looped over again, and if you’re like me, soon enough you’re going to put that track on mute. For a large, thriving theme park, it sounds more like your local city park on a work day.


Adventure Parks still brings the fun in managing a park, but there are too many things missing that hinders the experience. There is just not enough of everything to satisfy the theme park genre gurus. Still, it is fun enough to see one’s theme park designs come to life, and fortunately, Adventure is at least good enough to make that true. 



 

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