#4if

Scrooloose: My Thoughts After #4IF

I finished A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda first...

And I have to say it was a fun little side-scroller platformer. But I do mean little, it only took about three hours to complete from start to finish. Some quick thoughts follow.

So A.R.E.S. is a mix between games like Mega Man and Metroid. The player is put in the role of a Robot-Human-Cyborg type character (the game is never very clear about that) and tasked with stopping a robot uprising threatening to destroy humanity. Along the way you'll have to fight different enemies and bosses and collect scrap items to build repair kits and grenades for A.R.E.S. so that he can continue to battle the enemy.

The game gives you the ability to replay missions to collect things that you may have passed up but there's really no reason at all to do that, as everything you need to win is given to you as you complete areas.

Weapons are not super varied except for damage ratings and their look. Some fire faster, some hit harder, some fire through objects, but none of that matters very much. You can finish the game with your starting weapon if you so choose. Grenades come in two forms: High Explosive and EMP. Both come in handy from time to time but are mostly used for level progression and finding secret areas and have little use in combat. A.R.E.S. can use the H.E. grenades to extend his jump range to cross a gap if needed but it's only required I think two times throughout the whole game. This action also uses a grenade which will have to be built again with scrap you pick up as you defeat enemies.bossI think I'd rather have seen grenades dropped from enemies other than be required to build them myself. Or at least have a drop chance available so I didn't have to continually open a crafting menu to create more items. The game provides players with infinite H.E. grenades as a reward for defeating the final boss, but that's the final boss so unless you as the player plan on running through the whole thing again in a sort of new game plus mode, it's useless to you.

Platforming runs the gamut from functional to frustrating. There are times when you'll be moving through an area jumping from one ledge to another with no problems. Other times every jump in a level is on the very outside edge of A.R.E.S. performance resulting in a bit of frustration as you consistently miss and fall a few levels down.

This title also gives the player the ability to change into different suits for hazardous areas. The problem here is that there -aren't- any hazardous areas. The only time you're presented with an area like this is a scripted story moment where A.R.E.S. receives a prototype suit upgrade from an NPC. There's a standard orange suit, and a blue one, then a yellow one, but there's never a description of what those different suits do.elevatorlockSo this isn't a great game, but despite it's flaws it's still pretty fun to run through. Music is a classic digital anime style that I used to love hearing in Mega Man and story is appropriately cheesy while being easy to follow. I'd say if you appreciate titles like this, pick A.R.E.S. up on a good sale.

Next was Velvet Assassin...

When you fire this game up for the first time you'll be greeted by a rather poignant scene of our protagonist in a hospital bed trying to survive some serious wounds she received in service to her country. It's from this point that Violet Summer begins telling her story through memories of what happened, and it's from this point that you as the player will be dropped into the game. That opening screen visual is very revealing in itself but you'll have to play to see what I mean by that.menu ecreenThis is not a typical World War 2 game. Let me explain. First off there's not really a big feeling that there's a war going on. Violet is way behind enemy lines, all alone, and well out of range of most combat. Occasionally you'll see a plane or two fly over head, you even take on a mission to mark an area for allied bombers. But that's as close to the typical war game as is gets. That's not to say the areas Violet has to traverse are clear and free of course, there are enemies everywhere. It's just that she will have to use stealth and guile to to make it through these places to reach her objectives rather than go all B.J. Blazkowicz and run in guns blazing with mortars falling and the like.stalkingSecondly, it's not long before you realize that not everyone in the Reich shares Hitler's views. Soldiers have conversations about how horrible their prisoners are treated, and about how they feel like they're always walking on eggshells around their superiors because even buttoning their uniform jackets wrong could get them in serious trouble. Some talk about just wanting to go home to their families. There are of course the polar opposite of these soldiers as well, and man they certainly made me angry while playing this game.

This is one of the most realistic views I've seen put in place for a WW2 title. It helps to remove the stereotype that during this time, -all- Germans must have been evil Nazis bent on doing their part to take over the world. And while those people did exist, in truth it had more to do with their sex and age as to whether they were in the army or not, no matter their ideals. It humanizes everyone involved and you can see them for what they really were: people.

Velvet Assassin came out 2009, but man it's graphics have held up very well. Textures are great even if they aren't high res. Lighting is very good and shadows are sharp, as would be required considering this is a pure stealth title.shadowsVoice acting is well done, conversations have depth and Violet herself is easy to listen to when she talks. And by the way she is not objectified in this game, at no point is Violet playing the damsel in distress. She's a tough, no nonsense character that is clearly not to be trifled with.parisStealth in this title is excellent. Violet's main weapon is her ability to stay undetected while she stalks her prey from the shadows. She'll rely on her combat knife to get to the job done but there are guns as well. However, firing weapons isn't as simple as just clicking the mouse. You'll have to plan for your guns use as you have to enter 'aim mode' with the middle mouse button. This changes the camera view to just over Violet's shoulder and can be switched from left to right. Her movement will be dramatically slower and she'll have to exit aim mode to get back to stalking enemies. Also firing will give away her position so it's best to save the guns for emergencies. Direct combat is almost never survivable, Violet is an ambush predator, not a fighter. In other words, this is not a shooter. If things get too hairy, she can use a morphine injection to gain a very short lived advantage.1911Sounds and music are very suspenseful and help bring across the ever present tension that is felt when hiding from enemies inches away in a shadowy corner. You'll be able to track enemies footsteps and listen for conversations where they may be distracted enough for you to move to another location. Music will help tell you if you're pushing your luck.

Unfortunately Velvet Assassin uses a pretty old version of Nvidia Phyx drivers that are no longer supported. So in order to play this game you're going to have to uninstall any current version and install this one here, it's the last one supported before Nvidia removed old driver sets. This is a pretty glaring problem, but it's not a tough fix. Worst of it is that your newer games probably won't work until you get the new drivers again.

It's my belief that the AI is tethered a bit too short as well. If you're spotted you'll be investigated and chased, but if you're quick you can just hide and perhaps just try again.

I also had a problem with the fact that the final two missions really step away from the core stealth element. With how the story plays out it seems appropriate by that time, but Velvet Assassin is up to that point a pure stealth title. Flipping it on its ear kind of threw me for a loop.

And I really don't like that character experience is tied directly to collectibles and not the player's ability to complete an area well. You'll have to find items spread around the map to gain experience and increase Violet's skills. Each of these is worth a certain amount of exp, a signet ring is worth 100, an honor dagger is worth 500. Every 1000 will allow you to increase in level.

I wish I could go on because I really, really like this title and I recommend it for those willing to deal with the Phsyx drivers. But as this is supposed to be a few quick thoughts about titles in our #4if, I feel as though I should come to a close. Suffice it to say that this is one of the best pure stealth titles I've played. Styx: Master of Shadows is very similar in many ways and perhaps better because of the truly extensive depth of it's level design. Velvet Assassin took about 16 hours to complete and is certainly worth a play through.cutscene

A Story About My Uncle...

This is a first person platformer game by Gone North Games and Coffee Stain Studios, and man is it good. ASAMU uses the Unreal 4 Engine and it looks pretty spectacular despite the fact that it only uses DirectX 9. Performance is perfect, running at a constant 60 fps with VSYNC on and in the hundreds with it off.

From the second this game starts, so does the intrigue. The player is put in the role of a man telling his daughter a bed time story about when he was young and went on an adventure to find his lost Uncle, Fred. You'll begin by simply walking through a home filled with pictures, books and notes posted everywhere. You'll see notations made on a chalk board along with a map filled with pins showing places that Uncle Fred had been to.valveSoon you're transported to a pretty fantastical world of floating islands in the sky, and dark caverns filled with bioluminescent plants. It's a beautiful world and you'll have to jump from place to place and use a grapple device that stems from a glove on your right hand. ASAMU has a fair amount of challenge built in along with some collectible items that allow for some game play cutomisation.

This title has a pretty deep story, there's a lot of symbology throughout that can really get you thinking. It seems to me that this game is a sort of memorial to some important people in the developer's life. By the time you hear the line "Dear Uncle Fred. Today I step into your house for the very last time..." it's really apparent that there's more than just a wonderfully imaginative story happening. Although the voice acting isn't amazing it certainly gets the point across, and it's really a touching presentation.open worldThis is a beautiful but short game, around five hours. I'm not usually a proponent of short titles, but you'll get a feeling of completion when it's all done. I highly recommend playing this one through. I'll link a game play video that I made here and apologize in advance for my mediocre audio quality, a little PC fan noise is in the background.

Lastly was War For the Overworld...

Way back in 1997 there was a pretty killer title called Dungeon Keeper that kind of turned the RTS world on its head. Instead of having the player build manufacturing stations to produce armies and then attack the evil enemy, Dungeon Keeper made the player the bad guy seeking to destroy all that was good.

You were given a couple of workers and a base structure and were required to tunnel and carve your way through the earth to build your dungeon. Your workers would then claim the space and you were allowed to build supporting structures to attract evil minions to do your bidding. They had to have places to eat, sleep, train and be happy and then could be unleashed upon the forces of good.

Subterranean Games decided to pick up development as an indie title after EA bought up Bullfrog and Dungeon Keeper 3 had to be canceled. In 2012 they started the Kickstarter campaign in order to make War For the Overworld and late in the year were recognized by Peter Molyneux (the creator of Dungeon Keeper) who began asking people to support the Kickstarter project. Development was slow and the game was delayed but on April 2nd of 2015 WFTO was released.titleAny fan of the original titles will find this game to be a near exact copy. Everything looks right, feels right, sounds right and the humor is still there. I didn't find it to be super challenging all the time but it had its moments to be sure. One mission requires you to build beast dens to attract monsters to help you defend a near defeated Underlord. You'll have about ten minutes to carve out a dungeon, build defenses, and train beasts to hold off an attack of 187 enemies from three of four cardinal directions, and then retaliate. That was a pretty tough spot to be in but luckily the balance is pretty decent in WFTO and with some patience and forethought I managed to eek out a victory.campaignStory is the same as always: Be bad, conquer good, get betrayed. But it's great fun. Overall it took about 16 hours to play WFTO through, and I'm not sure there's a lot replay-ability but it's definitely worth going through once.

Graphically WFTO looks pretty good, especially for an RTS. Even with a big busy map full of creatures the game ran very well. I never experienced any crashing and the one time I had any hang-up it resolved itself.

This is one of those rare cases where Steam Early Access worked out properly. The developers are still producing updates and are even looking to begin shipping physical copies of the game soon.

Bottom line is if you liked Dungeon Keeper then you'll like War For the Overworld. Steam has it for $29.99 and I personally think it's worth the price. Check out the official site herefuntime

So that's my very first #4if...

I'd have to rank them from my taste as follows:

  1. A Story About My Uncle. Very cool story told in a non-violent and touching way while still being visually impressive and running perfectly. Lots of "wow" moments and a fair challenge to boot.
  2. Velvet Assassin. The only things that keep this from being number one here are the compatibility issues and the way the game kind of turns itself inside-out toward the end. Even though it makes sense by the time it happens it just doesn't seem to fit entirely. I loved this title though and I highly recommend it for stealth fans.
  3. War For the Overworld. A very very well made successor to Dungeon Keeper. Well optimised, fun and can be challenging. Low replay value makes this one number three.
  4. A.R.E.S. Extiction Agenda. A fun side-scroller platformer with elements of Metroid and Mega Man. Very short and when all is said and done, slightly disappointing. But overall a cool title and there's a newer version of it out there that gets higher praise, perhaps I'll try that one too.

A pretty fun experience and despite being gone for a week I managed to finish with plenty of time to spare. At the time of this writing I still have almost a full two weeks... maybe I need a life. Anyway, hopefully you've all had a great Four in February as well, I look forward to reading about your experiences in the comments. Thanks for reading.

Now if you'll excuse me, I really need to go play XCom 2 (finally) and the new Tomb Raider aaaannnd look forward to titles like Dark Souls 3 in April, and Doom in May. So much good stuff coming!!

System requirements for all of my #4if titles are as follows:

A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda

Minimum:

    • OS: Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8
    • Processor: Intel Core™2 Duo Processor, AMD Athlon x2 Processor
    • Memory: 2 GB RAM
    • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 7600 series, ATI Radeon HD 2400 series
    • DirectX: Version 9.0c
    • Storage: 1 GB available space
    • Sound Card: DirectSound compatible (DirectX 9.0c or higher)

Velvet Assassin

Windows:

Minimum:

    • OS: Windows XP / Vista
    • Processor: Singlecore CPU with 3GHZ
    • Memory: 512MB RAM
    • Graphics: Pixel Shader 3 Graphics Card with 256 MB VRAM (Geforce 6800 or ATI X1600)
    • Hard Drive: 5GB Free Hard Disk Space
    • Sound: Stereo Sound

Recommended:

    • OS: Windows XP / Vista
    • Processor: Dual core CPU with 2Ghz
    • Memory: 1GB RAM
    • Graphics: Geforce7900gt or ATI X1900 xt
    • Hard Drive: 5GB free Hard Disk Space
    • Sound: 5.1 Surround Sound

MAC OSX:

  • OS: Mac OS X 10.7.5 or higher
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo CPU
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Hard Disk Space: 5 GB HDD space
  • Video Card: ATI HD 2600, NVidia 8600 or better with minimum 256 VRAM

A Story About my Uncle

Minimum:

    • OS: Windows XP (SP3), Windows Vista (SP2), Windows 7, Windows 8
    • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo, AMD Athlon X2, or equal at 1.6GHz or better
    • Memory: 2 GB RAM
    • Graphics: DirectX 9.0c-compatible, SM 3.0-compatible
    • DirectX: Version 9.0c
    • Storage: 2 GB available space
    • Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c-compatible, 16-bit

Recommended:

    • OS: Windows 7 or 8
    • Processor: QuadCore 2.0 GHz+
    • Memory: 4 GB RAM
    • Graphics: DirectX 9.0c-compatible, SM 3.0-compatible, 1024MB VRAM+
    • DirectX: Version 9.0c
    • Storage: 4 GB available space
    • Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c-compatible, 16-bit

War for the Overworld

Minimum:

    • OS: Windows 7 , Windows 8 , Windows 10
    • Processor: Dual Core CPU @ 2.0GHz
    • Memory: 4 GB RAM
    • Graphics: Nvidia GT400 series with 512MB RAM or better, ATI 4870HD with 512MB RAM or better
    • Hard Drive: 4 GB available space (may increase in the future)
    • Sound: Speakers or headphones

Recommended:

    • OS: Windows 7 (64-bit), Windows 8 (64-bit), Windows 10 (64-bit)
    • Processor: Quad Core CPU @ 2.0GHz
    • Memory: 8 GB RAM
    • Graphics: Nvidia GT500 series with 1GB RAM or better, ATI 5870HD with 1GB RAM or better
    • Hard Drive: 8 GB available space (may increase in the future)
    • Sound: Speakers or headphones