Playing Strike Suit Zero is an education in the physics and motion of giant robot combat; it teaches the player that, unlike something like Zone of the Enders where the humanoid machines can coast around like aircraft, in space the virtue of transforming from fighter to mech is being able to stop and line up shots methodically. If anything, this shows the main limitation of humanoid robots – they are slow, less capable of rapid evasion while remaining accurate than a fighter and have a huge target profile that leaves them easily attacked by capital ships. Yet even so, Strike Suit Zero makes its mech combat a viable strategy, and indeed a very enjoyable one – setting it quite apart from its natural points of comparison in Project Sylpheed or Freespace 2.
The most recent entry in the Thief series was met with significant criticism prior to its launch for the changes made to what was perceived as a good existing formula. As someone who had not played the previous games, I entered this title with no preconceptions or high or low expectations. The result was a game significantly flawed – sometimes entertaining, with good ideas to be had, but mired by an uninspiring story, uneven design and frequent glitches that ruined the atmosphere and aesthetic.
Gigantic Army is marketed as a return to the side-scrolling mech game popularised by Assault Suits Valken and Front Mission Gun Hazard on the SNES; functionally a 2D platformer, the emphasis is far more strongly on combat (evoking something like Contra or Metal Slug) but with a more ponderous, weighty physics engine. This sense of nostalgia shines through in advertising – which uses a mockup SNES game box and logo – and in the game’s use of achievements (names of which are a series of puns on other mech-game classics) and even the pared-back cutscenes of moving stills and scrolling text. Whereas a game like La-Mulana takes the mechanics and design ethos of retro games and builds on them into something new and ambitious, Gigantic Army is slavish in its use of past game design. Entire level concepts are lifted from the games which inspire it – given an original spin aesthetically, and designed around its core mechanical changes from the formula, but nevertheless there is a significant familiarity to it that is both a virtue and a reason for criticism.
The best way to experience Dark Souls 2 is to play it from scratch, completely blind to what is coming in terms of level design and challenges; for this reason, this preview will comprise two clearly defined sections. The first will focus on those details which do not relate to exact game events, instead highlighting those mechanical changes that set it apart from its predecessor. The second will be a series of reflections on the gameplay experienced during the three-hour preview session I was a part of, going into more detail about the exact progression of levels and aesthetic.
Evolve feels, at first, like an arena-based mixture of Left 4 Dead and Borderlands with aspects of older multiplayer shooters; asymmetrical multiplayer, with light, low-gravity physics thanks to jetpack movement and an emphasis on characterful classes with names and unique aesthetics. It even shares, apparently, some of the knowingness of Borderlands; the characters are exaggerated in looks and have the same junkyard, redneck look of industry-meets-war, albeit made more serious – the end result evocative of Unreal Tournament more than anything. Yet the overall aesthetic is a little bland; the map provided in the preview build was a quite generic industrial complex in a jungle of strange creatures. “Neat”, smooth-panelled, run-down and abandoned equipment placed Avatar style in a hostile environment is a very standard aesthetic for shooters; Unreal Tournament 2004 made extensive use of it, for example, while similar complexes populate Warframe, Dust 514 and so on.
“Real robot” mecha animé is a sub-genre usually considered the effective opposite of “super-robot” stories. The usual definition is based around a distinction in tone and theme – stories based on superhero traditions and those based more on military fiction – and can provide a guideline for recommending series similar to each other, but beyond that is a limited definition. Nevertheless, when considered as a way of differentiating series by specific aspects – not as an absolute binary scale with the possibility for a series to be entirely one or the other but instead as a more granular thing which shows the variety possible within the wider genre (for mecha is ultimately a subgenre of science-fiction, and although some series may contain robots or powered armour, the focus is on some other aspect of the setting), it has some value.
Hoplite is a puzzle-RPG in the vein of 2013′s hugely renowned 868-Hack, mixing board game like fixed piece movements with roguelike-esque survival dungeon crawling. Much like Hack the aim is for the player to complete a certain number of floors of puzzles, all the while collecting abilities to allow them to better challenge the enemies. However, the emphasis is more on clearing floors efficiently than survival; enemies do not respawn, but instead are deployed in fixed numbers and known positions.
Although Bravely Default only ranked No.9 in my Top 15 games of 2013, it remains probably the best JRPG released on consoles this year thanks in no small part to its high level of challenge and in-depth mechanics.
Bravely Default’s story is presented simply and in the vein of the early Final Fantasy games it resembles; while the core console Final Fantasy series has moved beyond the traditional turn-based, four-person-party system in many ways (games like Final Fantasy X/X-2 are probably the most similar from the recent generation, but themselves added certain modifications to the system), Bravely Default places itself firmly within the 16-bit era of RPGs much like Xbox 360 hit Lost Odyssey did. It has a straightforward turn-based combat system based around speed stats, multiple hits per weapon and a granularity between attack speed and damage much like Final Fantasy III did on the NES, and a job system with upgradeable character roles and customisable abilities taken straight from Final Fantasy V).
This is the final section of my Top 15 games of 2013 – in which the top 5 are counted down.
The Top 15 Games of 2013 series continues with entries 10-6; the final part will come tomorrow, in which my personal favourite game of the year will be revealed.