ZENO CLASH

Effectively the equivalent of brawling your way through a Heronimus Bosch triptych – of which Chilean developer, ACE Team, were greatly inspired by – Zeno Clash offers a very unique and original take on storytelling, gameplay and, most importantly, presentation, that can both enchant and disturb you along its twisted paths.

Initially released as a Steam download in 2009 using Valve’s Source engine, Zeno Clash can appear to be rather mysterious, if not confusing, in its content and theme. Through the eyes of its rebellious, yet sullen protagonist, Ghat, the player is immediately thrust into the Frankenstein world that is Zenozoik – a cobbled together assortment of everything but the ordinary. One of many children under the looming, birdlike hermaphrodite that is Father-Mother, Ghat is forced to flee his clan after discovering a dark secret about their universal parent that subsequently ends in him taking its life. Assisted by his female companion, Deadra, the two travel far from their home into the unforgiving, violent territories that make up Zenozoik’s landscape, all-the-while hunted by Ghat’s siblings who are hungry for revenge.

Although containing an assortment of crude melee and ranged weapons, this game is centrally focused on first-person hand-to-hand combat, embracing this wholly untraditional style of gameplay with very satisfying effects. Using a simplistic control map (punch, harder punch, block, dodge, etc.), the player is given a lot of freedom to experiment and formulate a fighting style over a series of linear maps that mark each stage of Ghat’s journey, as well as his retelling of the events that lead up to his banishment. The key to Zeno Clash‘s intense combat, however, lies in its firm grounding and brutal placement within this alien world: whilst playing I often felt a rush of contradicting emotions between each combatant, reluctantly delivering the final blow to some, whereas others I felt driven by my own hate and fear to destroy – a good example of this being against the grotesque cannibal, Gabel.

In terms of story, some players may feel a little bit disappointed in comparison to the game’s otherwise bizarre design and philosophies. It is not badly written, as such, however the characters – especially Ghat – can occasionally feel a little lacking and flat, which is not helped by the speed in which the journey progresses (I completed the campaign over a period of 3-4 hours in total). It is important to note that more focus is certainly drawn to the environment and its inhabitants who you will find recycled throughout and, surprisingly enough, happy to recognise in repetition. This close-knit, community feel definitely adds to Zeno Clash‘s atmosphere, creating a sense of isolation, yet intimacy within its cast – if pummeling anyone and everything repeatedly in the face is to your favour, that is.

Overall, Zeno Clash, despite its flaws, is definitely worth experiencing for its creativity and fresh take on first-person combat, combining many elements from other games that inspired its design – a cross between, say, the stage-based fighting of Double Dragon and perhaps the (tamed) brutality and perspective of Chronicles of Riddick – lacking in size and freedom, however. The core factors that support this title definitely lie in its organic and natural feel, which certainly left me intrigued and wanting for more insight into the beautifully dark realm of Zenozoik. After completing its campaign, players are also given access to a Tower Challenge mode akin to Soul Calibur‘s ‘Tower of Lost Souls’, in which Ghat must complete each individual floor of ascending difficulty – a deeply satisfying addition for any player who wishes to test their mettle further within the Zeno Clash universe. I highly recommend experiencing this title, especially so with its highly anticipated sequel’s release at the end of this month.

Buy Zeno Clash from Steam here

Visit the website here

DEADLY DUNGEONS

If you have read through my older posts, you will already know that I am a big fan of dungeon crawlers and fantasy games in general. What I didn’t have, however, was one that I could keep in my pocket!

Deadly Dungeons, developed by code_zombie for Android devices, is a very well designed RPG, set within an underground labyrinth. Having been split from your party, the player must fight for survival, exploring a variety of dungeons for a way out. As your character progresses, however, you are lead to a  ‘confrontation with an ancient evil, and a descent to hell itself’, battling a variety of monsters and beasts en route.

The first thing that really struck me with this game was its size: this is not your average, quick phone game – in fact, it could even comfortably sit as a full desktop release. A lot of time and effort has certainly been invested into Deadly Dungeons, boasting random generation for its levels, as well as a variety of skills and spells to learn and upgrade. As with all games of its type, there is a functional levelling system that allows you to focus on a certain class, or indeed create a character who is balanced in melee, ranged and magic attacks. Numerous item drops and discoverable loot are also very welcome additions to the title, allowing for old equipment – such as weapons, armour, amulets and potions – to be traded with Zebo, the in-game merchant.

Fighting is conducted by tapping the weapon/item symbols when an enemy is in your path, with different aspects to consider: axes are slower hitting, for example, so must be combined with evasive movement if the creatures have a strong attack. It is also important to note that the game moves in real time, so keep an eye on where each beast is inside a room, because you can very quickly become encircled and trapped without realising it. Keys can be found throughout the game – or from Zebo, allowing you to open locked chambers for additional exploring (with a chance of the key breaking on use). A criticism I could make about this game, however, is that shields do not seem to have much use in battle and only really serve as amping your overall defence. A very small issue, but noticeable – especially so when it can be used as a physical weapon alongside your primary.

Overall, Deadly Dungeons is a really great addition to any gamer’s phone and includes a range of difficulties (from casual to permadeath hardcore) as well as a number of character images for you to choose in the style of Neverwinter Nights. For only £0.99, this is a true bargain that should not be passed over lightly.

Buy it from Google Play here

Visit the website here

DELVER

Still very much so in alpha development, Chad Cuddigan’s Delver is a Minecraft-esque roguelike that has a huge amount of potential for the future. Currently running on both Windows and Android, the beauty within this release is its simplicity, applying very minimal, easy to learn controls through each level of its descending dungeons.

Atmosphere is definitely a key feature within Delver – often leading you through dark, claustrophobic tunnels, each holding a selection of unforgiving beasts and baddies intent on your demise. At this stage there are only three varieties of weapons: daggers, swords and wands – however, that isn’t such an issue, with each holding its own power, ability and design. Wands are the only ranged weapon currently implemented, but hold a lot more effectiveness than the average blade, allowing you to take out oncoming enemies from any distance in a satisfying explosion of pixel blood. Each wand has a limited number of charges, however, and so must be used sparingly in combat. Armour throughout the game also relies on much the same principle as the weapons, increasing in defence depending on its style and class.

There is a colourful selection of potions to be found, however it would seem that all but one heal your character – despite each description declaring an unknown effect. This has no real downside on gameplay, but it would be nice to see a bit more variety in how each colour corresponds to your character – especially if there were overall attack/defence stats included. Each potion could perhaps carry its own positive/negative effects, allowing for you to focus more heavily on a certain style of play – for example, using speed and attack, but lacking in defence.

Another feature that I would love to see included would be durability. With a lot of low grade armour and weapons scattered about each level, it seems a little bit of a waste to ignore a use for them. If each weapon, in the same sense as the wands, had a certain number of uses – or hits, in the case of armour – there would most certainly be a much more increased sense of difficulty and desperation – especially on the lower levels, where gameplay can be pretty comfortable at this current stage of development.

All in all, I highly recommend trying Delver out – It’s a nicely made, fun little game that takes little knowledge or computer power to run and I will most definitely be following with each future update.

Download Delver for PC here

Buy Delver for Android here

Follow Delver‘s development blog here

DARK SOULS PC RELEASE ANNOUNCED

With over 93,000 signatures backing a cross-platform release – the biggest petition of such a kind to date, Namco Bandai have finally issued a statement promising fans the arrival of Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition for PC on the 24th August, packed full with a variety of new bosses, enemies and content.

Universally praised for its ruthless gameplay and intense battles, Dark Souls also contains a sophisticated level of tactics and logic, making it a perfect addition to the PC canon – developed by Japanese veterans, From Software. This is one release I am definitely excited about, having backed the petition’s sentiments since its initial conception in January. However, another issue has also risen out of the announcement, but for a very different reason entirely: the use of Games for Windows Live over Valve’s popular Steamworks platform.

Games for Windows Live is notorious within the PC gaming community for its bad online support, intrusive menu and quite frankly ridiculous security, forcing players to have a constant internet connection to play each game. Many a time have I been stung by this over-enforcement, which has too been mirrored in the recent release of Blizzard’s highly awaited Diablo 3, which has had a giant backlash for its own implement of always-online gaming.

Either way, this is one to look forward too and we can only hope there is a future Steam release for this phenomenal title.

Visit the games website here

ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE, AND WHY IT’S JUST NOT ENOUGH

Ever since the release of Morrowind in 2002, I’ve been a truly devout follower of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, completely immersed within its intricate detail and complex story lines in which every small book, item, town or character can have a significant effect upon the way in which the game can be played. Each installment has revealed its own carefully crafted world, ripe with culture, politics, adventure and sweet rolls – Skyrim even introduced dragons, fully displaying the extent of Bethesda’s abilities and catapulting itself into the mainstream. However, with the announcement of a planned MMO for 2013 from Zenimax Online Studios, has the legend finally come to an end?

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

For me, The Elder Scrolls has always been about escapism: with each new character you are given absolute freedom to shape the future of Tamriel in whichever way you please, interacting however you feel fit and ultimately forming a bond with the many races that inhabit it, using a combination of different skills – which range from sneaking to destruction magic – to aid you. The addition of other players scares me, to say the least – no longer will this be my journey, but merely a fragment of something larger, louder and much more obnoxious, as Blizzard so perfectly demonstrated with its wide-spread release of World of Warcraft in 2004. Prepare yourself for an onslaught of ebay traders and exploiters, as any form of chat box will become swamped in spam and hopefuls looking for free handouts.

The sad reality is that, whilst The Elder Scrolls has been solely confined to single player in the past, this has also acted as a barrier against all the things which could potentially ruin the experience. The second everybody else has access into the game, all that atmosphere and immersion that has been so carefully put together will be lost.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

At the heart of the series, however, are its fans. Housing an extremely dedicated modding community, there are thousands of additions, fixes and complete recreations available for each game, at absolute zero cost. However, there won’t be any kind of opening or freedom of this kind with an MMO and a divide will quickly form: those willing to join up, and those opposed to this new restriction and breakaway from the style and formula that has shaped The Elder Scrolls since its conception. Some have even been working on their own multiplayer versions of Skyrim, with mods such as Skyrim Online already emerging for public use.

But, it’s not the lack of mods or the decline in quality that I fear the most – it’s the use of the map.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

With every new game, we have been granted a window into each diverse section of its world. From the grotty dungeons of 1994’s Arena, to the wind-swept mountains of Skyrim, Bethesda have gifted us with a stunning selection of vibrant, awe-inspiring landscapes and cities, tailored to each race and culture that inhabits them. Could so much detail and time be spent creating these areas in an MMO? Of course not. The very structure demands for repetition, respawned enemies and recyclable quests – otherwise no player could have an equal chance. To deny us that intricacy we have come to love and swear by would be a serious dismissal to those who have invested so much time and support into the series, immersed in each new scenario. I still want to see the barren stretches of Elsweyr, or the swamps of Black Marsh – these lands that we have so often read about in many a book, yet have always been so shrouded in mystery…

I know that Bethesda’s decision to condone and support the making of Elder Scrolls Online is in answer to years of requests from its fanbase, and it could quite possibly be a great success on release, but, for me, it will never truly fit into place as the logical next step for the series, nor will I consider it as such.

Whatever happens, just please let there be an Elder Scrolls VI – you owe that much to the people.

Some preview shots of Elder Scrolls Online:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Buy ES III Morrowind on Steam here

Buy ES IV Oblivion on Steam here

Buy ES V Skyrim on Steam here

Visit The Elder Scrolls website here

SUPERBROTHERS: SWORD & SWORCERY EP

Spawned from the music of Jim Guthrie, Sword & Sworcery was originally created for iOS, but has been nicely ported to the PC – with the full soundtrack included.

This game is incredibly relaxing, leading you on a journey through a beautifully organic world as you solve small puzzles and interact with the creatures and scenery. Being a point and click adventure, S&S is very undemanding in terms of controls, relying more on the atmosphere, style and involvement of the player rather than any kind of strategy – hints for each stage can be found in the recorded ‘thoughts’ of each character, as well as an inbuilt, optional Twitter feature that allows you to share clues and help other players through the wilderness.

Just watching the trailer for this game was enough to persuade me: an inviting mixture of nostalgia and dreamlike sequences, however all encompassed within a very digital sense of mystery. Sword & Sworcery is not so much a game, but a piece of art that allows its audience to explore its canvas, affecting the landscape with each simple manipulation and movement over the span of 4 short ‘sessions’ that act as chapters for its narrative.

I highly recommend this game as a refreshing break from the stresses and complications of other contemporary works – from the very moment of download I found myself fully submerged within the simple, innocent life that the developers have so perfectly conjured, instantly a part of the mystical flow that makes up the visual recreation of Jim Guthrie’s latest LP.

I would definitely say that S&S works best on a larger screen, so as not too miss out on the full experience of every pixel, animation and detail that inhabits its lovingly crafted landscape – a must-buy for every gamer looking for a bit of release and inspiration.

Visit the website here   – (also, Capy games and Jim Guthrie)

Buy it from Steam here

HACK, SLASH, LOOT

Despite having no tutorial or any guide to its controls in-game (they can be found here), this very traditional, turn-based dungeon crawler is extremely easy to pick up the instant you download it, placing you straight into one of its various scenarios as one of their three starting characters: Saracen, Wizard or Archer. A variety of other classes can be unlocked, however, but only after you have died a certain number of times – and this you will quickly become accustomed too.

Much like Dungeons Of Dredmor, HSL is based on randomly generated dungeons, creating a multitude of unpredictable events – starting directly next to a high level enemy, for instance. If that wasn’t hard enough, the game has a tendency to be pretty ruthless toward you, leaving your chances of survival pretty low in most occasions as you are left to watch your newly-born adventure cut down, mere steps from the spawn point.

However, despite its flaws, HSL has an attraction in its difficulty – progress is achievement, and the feeling of satisfaction as you manage to venture deeper and deeper into its unforgiving depths is a very different experience without all the tips and hints most modern franchises will thrust upon you. This game reminds you very firmly of your character’s mortality: you’re just a guy with a weapon, and if you manage to complete your quest, you’ve earned all the glory you set out for.

Overall, this game is very much built as a traditional dungeon crawler: your inventory doesn’t extend beyond what you are wearing, every scenario is based around a classic ‘escape this lair/kill this beast’ theme and, most of all, everything is down to chance… But, hey – this is the kind of game you can jump in and jump out of very quickly and easily, the graphics are pleasingly retro – and all for a very low price!

Try it or Buy it from the website here

Buy it on Steam here