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One of the core techniques I’ve been taught during my time in further and higher education is the technique of critical comparison. You’re probably familiar with it; the act of standing two pieces of media side-by-side, and critically comparing their themes and approaches to various aspects of the human experience.  Having reached the eighth instalment of this series, I think it’s high time we dive into something similar. This time on A Narrative Lens, we will be critically comparing the opening segments of two PSP games – Monster Hunter Freedom Unite and Gods Eater Burst. Both games feature a similar form of gameplay, featuring a player-created character teaming up with friends (or in the case of Gods Eater Burst, AI partners as well) to tackle large monsters, harvesting the gear, then setting out to take on even bigger monsters.

The settings of these games could not be more different. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is set in a world filled with monsters – soaring wyverns, hulking apes, titanic elder dragons, and anthropomorphic cats. The world is very much a fantastical one, with mystical blacksmiths and short weapons that commonly outsize their wielder.

Gods Eater Burst also contains fantastical monsters and over-sized weaponry. However, the world is Earth, years into the future and barely surviving a calamitous outbreak of an alien organism called the Oracle Cell. Beyond that, there is very little identifiable science, leaving this firmly in the realm of science fantasy.

This difference in setting evokes several core themes that set these games apart even before we approach the delivery of their narratives. The world of Monster Hunter is a burgeoning world of swords and high adventure, where the toppling of titans is an incredibly regular thing. The sheer optimism the opening video inspires contrasts heavily with the ruined world of Gods Eater Burst, where every fight between the titular beings, the God Eaters - humans augmented with a controlled exposure to Oracle Cells - and their prey is a life-risking and immensely dangerous operation.

 

I’m afraid the Frontiersman will be quite operational when your friends arrive.

Announced today, is the last major gameplay element to Natural Selection 2: The Exo Suit. This hulk of an armament is the one thing that would make the Onos cream in its pants. Armed with twin miniguns or (as depicted in the trailer) one minigun and a mechanized arm (for melee), the ES has a single objective, search and destroy.

Now available via patch, the Exo Suit gives many players a reason to get back into the beta fray that is NS2. Additionally, this “patch includes a brand new map: Veil. This is a ground-up remake of the beloved NS1 map and is massive, beautiful and complex,” Unknownworlds said in an email announcement. A welcomed stage that is sure to open up the arena of engagement that is normally exhibited through CQC.

Coupled with the patch, is of course the usual bug fixes and performance enhancements, including an update to the physics, which “has been completely overhauled.” Furthermore, a new hint system has been implemented for beginner players, while a clarion HUD option is available for seasoned players.

Originally slated for a summer release, Natural Selection 2 now looks to September 4th for its official launch on Steam. Pre-ordering for 34.99 earns beta access, which is steadily running as we speak. Be sure to check out the trailer and see the Exo Suit in glorious ballistic mayhem. Commence gaming.

 

 

The inevitable has finally happened. A true infected apocalypse is coming and Rocket is spearheading the charge.

Officially announced today, DayZ is becoming its own ip title. Bohemia Interactive will develop the game with Dean “Rocket” Hall as project lead. All it took was four months, build 1.61 and 1 million unique players to green light a project that many gamers, myself included, are ecstatic about.

I realize people will have many, many questions - but we wanted to let everyone know the announcement now. Over the coming weeks, these questions will be answered. The game will have it’s own site, www.dayzgame.com and the mod will continue at it’s present link,” Dean Hall stated on the offical dev team blog site.

DZ will follow the Minecraft model, Rocket says, meaning, “fast iterations with the community alpha available for a heavily discounted price.” That cancels out any $30 price speculation, which is what many players paid to access DZ through Arma 2: Combined Operations. By the gods, thank you.

As for the DayZ mod itself, Hall assures the community that updates will proceed alongside the official title’s development. In other words, game on.

No official release date has been detailed, but you can expect information to trickle out in the coming weeks. What elements would you like to see in the definitive version? Will you be picking it up? Do you care? I do, because DayZ had me at survivor.

 

Forget what you think you know about zombies, and survival. Meet the new way to to fight the undead apocalypse!

Yes, the zombie phenomenon is sweeping the gaming industry, nothing surprising there. From Left4Dead, and Dead Island, to Plants vs Zombies, The Walking Dead, and the more recently announced Zombi U; there is no shortage of Z-games for Z-fans. But where your attention should be, is on the one game that’s taking things to the next level. Enter: DayZ.

DayZ is a mod for ARMA 2 and ARMA 2: Operation Arrowhead - created by Bohemia Interactive designer, Dean Hall. The premise - you already know if you’ve played any zombie title: An unknown infection has swept across the world, and wiped out most of humanity as we know it. Let’s begin.

Our story takes place in a post-soviet state named, Chernarus. Scattered about this 225 km2 open world, are survivors, that’s you. Armed with a small backpack, some bandages and a flashlight, you’re ready to face to the undead and the formidable abomination they created, other survivors.

Not only will you traverse this desolate terrain fending off walkers, crawlers, and hopping dead - who by the way are 28 Days Later fast - but you’ll be looking over your shoulder for bandits; survivors who rob and kill other survivors to get by. The best advice you’ll get from anyone: Trust no one.

This unique option is what makes DayZ a truly original experience. You’re encouraged to survive cooperatively, but the question is, who generally wants to help you, and who wants your goods for your life? Unless you know the person in real-life, this is a non-negotiable risk. This psychological gameplay is something I’ve never seen or experienced before. It’s incredibly unnerving. “Did you hear those foot-steps?”, “I hear gun fire?” - all popular phrases you’ll become accustomed to in DZ.

Survival through scavenging is the other aspect of gameplay that offers a more realistic approach to the genre. Your health is dependent on scavenging, which forces players to move about the world. Your hud, which has picture gauges that measure hunger, thirst, blood, and temperature begin to change color as your body requires replenishing.

Blood and temp are affected differently from thirst and hunger, naturally. Your blood will drain if you’re attacked, either by bites, or bullet wounds. Your temp will change with weather conditions. Hint: Chernarus is no tropical vacation. To help balance these challenges are bandages, heat pads, and blood-packs - the latter of which can only be applied by another player. If you don’t have a blood-pack, then a hunting knife for deer, rabbit, and other wild animals is useful for restoring health, or blood. Note: You’ll need to find a knife first.

Even then, it comes with a condition. In the real-world you cannot eat raw meat; same rule applies in DZ. Hence, you’ll need to find matches for fire and an axe to chop wood for said fire.

How do you do this? Travel. Walking is something you’ll do plenty of. Due to the size of the map, it can take quite a long time to get anywhere, I mean hours. And it all happens in real time. Sunset in CA, means sunset in Chernarus, and night-time in a state with no power is as dark as death.

Additionally, if you manage to find the parts, you can repair vehicles to make traveling a lot smoother. Just be careful, noise will attract the undead and rogue survivors.

Speaking of death, if you do bite the dust, then its perma-death I’m afraid. That’s right, all the gear you found, the careful planning, and travel-time will be for naught. Average life expectancy is 49 minutes. Top that.

In order to play DayZ, you’ll need Arma II: Combined Operations (A2 + A2:OA). Yes, the asking price for this mod might seem a bit steep ($29.99 on Steam), but what you get in return is a game - still in development, mind you - that offers something no other zombie title will. A survivor experience unlike anything you’ve played before. How long can you last?

 

Shuggy is an unfortunately-named vampire heading into a recently-inherited haunted mansion to clear out the demons within. Why does this vampire have a problem with fellow creatures of the night? Who knows. You are dropped in the dungeon of the mansion because, well, it’s as good a place to start as any, right? You find gems in each room, and upon finding all the gems you get a key. And gems form into keys because... you know what, forget it. Adventures of Shuggy is one of those games where the story just does not matter in the slightest.

That’s not always a problem --sometimes a game just needs to set a tone with its visuals and back it up with gameplay. Shuggy aims for a kid-friendly haunted mansion theme, with character designs that would fit right in with Halloween decorations and sticker sets at your local dollar store. But developer Smudged Cat Games couldn’t even stick with that theme: spiders, zombies, and other fitting enemies are joined by wasps, mosquitoes, abstract spike-balls, explosive mines, flaming fish, and robotic chickens(?). Backgrounds are fairly bland tile-sets of bricks, boards, and boxes, and when extraneous details are added for flavour, they sometimes obscure the view of the actual platforms and hazards. Shuggy and the monsters he must avoid pop out from the screen, which is handy enough for identifying hazards, but tends to look pretty ugly. Sounds aren’t any better, with an obnoxious jump effect, the annoying buzzing of mosquitoes (seriously, who thought that was a good sound to have going on so often?), and very little of use for providing gameplay cues. Music is fine, but nothing much to write about.

Okay, so story, theme, graphics, and sound are a bust. But how does it play? Thankfully, the gameplay is good. Not great, not that unique or exciting, but solidly good. B+. The conceit with Shuggy is that for the 100-plus rooms you’ll be puzzle-platforming your way through, the rules can change for any of them. Some levels have gravity pull sideways. Sometimes you can teleport. Sometimes you can fly or glide. Sometimes you can rotate the world around you. Some levels feature multiple Shuggys to control, dramatic size changes, or time-clones that re-run the path you just took. Sometimes you can use a rope to rappel around. I can’t fault it for lack of variety.

This kitchen-sink approach to feature addition helps to stave off the boredom of perpetual gem-collecting, but it creates some problems as well. The overworld screen for each section of the mansion allows you to branch off in different paths as you open adjacent doors upon completing a stage. This means that the developers lose control of what rooms to attempt next, leading to players finishing some complex level with a heretofore unseen game mechanic, then later grinding through a harmless player-training room designed to teach that same thing. Worse though is that with so many tricks up its sleeve, Shuggy never really does anything that interesting with any of them. Games like And Yet it Moves, Braid, and The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom focused on exploring only one of the same mechanics found in Shuggy, and end up taking that mechanic to more interesting places as a result.

The game never really feels like a good test of skill either. Sure I died a lot, but I never felt that anything was satisfactorily challenging, it was just filled with annoyances in the way of inevitable completion. Puzzles, likewise, are typically solved just by trying stuff until something eventually works. I can’t help but wonder if Smudged Cat dropped the ball by over-simplifying the controls. As it is, a single action button handles the level-specific mechanic. If they had instead used two action buttons, they could have combined a couple gimmicks together to create something more interesting: multiple Shuggys and room rotation, rope swinging and time-slip clones, etc. etc.

This is what I hoped for when I made my purchase --taking the mechanics I had seen in other games and combining them to unique effect. As it is Adventures of Shuggy, while nicely varied, feels like an ersatz amalgam of other -better- indie games.




Adventures of Shuggy is available on XBLA and PC. This review is based on the PC version using an Xbox 360 controller.

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