Blood Dragon showed how well the Far Cry formula could work in a completely new setting, so when Far Cry 4 took players back to the relatively sober locale of Kyrat in comparison, it felt like a bit of a missed opportunity, as if Ubisoft weren't quite willing to take a risk on a numbered entry in the franchise.
Primal feels just that, a game where everything is out to get you, where it really does feel like it’s hunt or be hunted. At least it does at the start when your skill tree is a little threadbare and weapons are at their weakest.
Taking on say, a mammoth or woolly rhino at an early stage in the game is tantamount to suicide. It makes you think twice when on the prowl for larger animals with ambushes just as quickly turning against you, transforming an opportunistic hunt into a desperate melee for survival.
It’ll certainly be rude awakening for those used to being the most dangerous thing in a game. When you’re staring at the business end of a pissed-off giant elk hurtling towards you with nothing but a sharpened stick for protection, you suddenly realise you are not the apex predator grenades and assault rifles from past Far Cry titles have conditioned you to believe you are.
This means that in the early stages of the game it’s wise to avoid confrontation with the land's more dangerous beasts as much as possible, not until you’ve upgraded weapons and skills to a level where you can take them on. The lack of merchants, safe houses and weapon lockers does mean that players will have to go after smaller animals as materials for weapons, ammunition, clothing, and building upgrades all have to be scavenged from the landscape and its inhabitants, so naturally Primal is positively teeming with all number of critters and fauna. Expanding your village eventually alleviates the need for constant scavenging, as inhabitants will gather supplies for you which can be accessed through any campsite.
The need to hunt for supplies in the beginning of the game helps convey a decent sense of necessity over self-preservation that humans living in the past may have experienced in order to survive, but traversing the densely populated world can start to grate a little. For example, successfully outrunning a rather brutal encounter with a pack of wolves with only a fraction of your last health bar remaining only to bump into a wandering grizzly bear can get frustrating, and it will happen on numerous occasions.
Thankfully this is where Primal’s tameable animal companions help out, as having one of them at your side is enough to scare away most of the more irritating wildlife living in Oros. They’re not just pest control however, and all can be extremely useful tools in their own right. Bears will draw attacks during battles, wolves reveal more of the map as you explore, and jaguars are able to perform stealth takedowns, with rare versions of the animals handily invulnerable to fire.
They also make fights infinitely more enjoyable and are actually useful in combat, which is more than can be said about most AI companions. Aiming at a target and clicking with the right bumper sends whatever animal you’re currently partnered with on a single minded mission to destroy the unfortunate person or creature you’ve earmarked for death, freeing you up to take out other targets and creating some memorable tandem take-downs.
Even if there is no time to command your animal to attack they are more than capable of looking after themselves during fights, and the larger beasts will often take out many of the enemies before you can. More than once was Takkar's primeval bacon saved by a sabre-toothed friend and it leads to many ‘Record that!’ moments. There’s also something incredibly endearing about being able to command a huge, scarred cave bear to ‘stay’ while you scout ahead.
The animal help isn’t just limited to the four-legged variety, and pressing up on the D-pad calls in an owl which can be used to get a literal birds-eye view of the surrounding terrain. It’s a very useful asset when scouting outposts, and you can even upgrade the owl to attack unsuspecting enemies from above with talons, bombs or angry beehives.
Combat in Primal has been reduced to its most basic form, with clubs, spears and bows your main means of dishing out punishment to enemies. The lack of 21st century tech isn’t a bad thing though, and fights are suitably savage and one of the standout features of the game.
Hit detection for the most part feels accurate and weighty, and conquering outposts and winning skirmishes with hand to hand fighting and well timed spear throws feels a lot more rewarding than if you were to do the same with modern weapons. There’s also something strangely more enjoyable about firing arrows from a bow pieced together with animal sinew, wood and bones at an enemy wrapped in wolf furs than dropping a target from a few hundred metres away with a .50cal sniper rifle.
Primal’s two enemy factions - the Udam and Izila – make decent adversaries. Led by Ull and Batari respectively, the former are a group of Neanderthals who emerged from the ice age with a taste for human flesh, and the latter a fire worshipping tribe partial to the odd bout of slavery. Both have enough unique attributes to make battling either of them feel different, the Izila’s love of fire quickly turns any battleground into a dangerous inferno, while the Udam boast some heavy warriors wearing armour made of bone who are able to soak up arrows and can knock you off your feet with one swing of a club.
It’s a shame that Ull, Batari and the story involving them both feels somewhat underused, and fails to really establish any meaningful presence in the game until much later on. Ull is set up to be the reason behind the Wenja’s troubles, but after his introduction he pretty much disappears for the next six or so hours, while we didn’t run into Batari until nearly ten hours of gameplay had passed and both are reduced to by the numbers boss battles, which feels a bit of disservice to the characters.
The big gaps between sightings of Ull and Batari is partly due to the fact that it’s very easy to get distracted, the map is littered with side-quests and Wenja events (it’s hard to take ten steps without stumbling across hostages that need rescuing or enemies that need dispatching), and partly down to the focus on expanding and upgrading your village and your abilities, which is still loads of fun in its own right.
There’s still plenty of entertaining characters to meet who will flesh out the main story while Ull and Batari are absent. These include a warrior out to avenge the death of his son, a one-armed crafter who calls you piss man (you’ll quickly find out why), a hunter who sends you after dangerous animals and a shaman who’s partial to feeding you hallucinogenic beverages made of blood.
The staggered narrative may be a problem for those who enjoy a more linear structure to a game’s story, but Primal feels more like a platform for creating your own fun out in the game world, whether it’s capturing outposts with a favoured beast companion, leading an angry mammoth across the path of unsuspecting enemies and watching the ensuing chaos, or simply riding through the land on top of a sabre-tooth tiger.
Primal was a bold move for Ubisoft to make, but the experiment has paid dividends. It would have been easy for them to play it safe and release another modern shooter in the same vein as Far Cry 3 or 4, but we would have missed out on one of the surprising gems in the franchise. Hopefully this isn't the last time we see the Far Cry formula taken to new and interesting locales, as I for one am quite excited to see what direction the series goes in next.
Ah the 1990s; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Fruitella and survival horror, what a grand old time. Taking cues from one of those (guess which one...), this remastered edition of DS game Dementium serves up some Resident Evil/Silent Hill-esque fun for folks on the go.
The sound design is also brilliant here, with spare piano melodies playing over sinister keyboard tones, with the occasional twinkling of a glockenspiel. Combined that with the constant beating of your heart (which gets faster as you take damage) and you have a delicious recipe for the macabre. The screams and groans from foes as you enter new wards also amp up the terror.
The game controls well, Renegade Kid giving multiple options for both right and left handed players, as well as providing options for players with circle pad pro, or stylus controls. Offering this many control schemes is admirable, and something Nintendo itself needs to think about (hello Kid Icarus Uprising). We opted to use the stylus controls (we don’t have a CPP), and despite early worries, found it to be great for precision aiming, with L firing weapons whilst we moved and aimed with circle pad and stylus respectively. The touch screen also provides maps, access to your notepad and fast switching between weapons - much handier than using the D Pad. This is as close to mouse and keyboard controls as you can get when playing on a console.
The sound design is also brilliant here, with spare piano melodies playing over sinister keyboard tones, with the occasional twinkling of a glockenspiel.
For those that love survival horror, this is a must buy, especially on a platform so lacking in this kind of game. Dementium Remastered isn't going to be the game that converts those indifferent to the genre, and that unfortunately, explains the price point.
You could be forgiven for thinking the twin-stick shooter was a genre that didn't allow for a lot of variety when it comes to gameplay and longevity. Of course, in some cases you’d be right – what seems like great fun at first can quickly become stale and repetitive, leaving you with the bitter taste of disappointment. Thankfully, Assault Android Cactus takes that assumption, turns it on its head and has you blasting wave upon wave of enemies quite happily – for a while at least.
Combat is very fast-paced, and the waves of enemies can quickly become quite overwhelming if you’re not paying enough attention, or making use of your weapons efficiently. So, pretty standard shooter fare in that respect. Another addition does make it a tad more interesting – rather than an actual health bar, you’re trying to preserve your battery power. As your power level drops, you need to find battery pick-ups to top up your charge level or face unconsciousness when it depletes. Whilst in reality it serves the same purpose and is just a slight variation on a standard health bar, it does help make things that bit more interesting.
Although there’s not much variation in the combat itself, Assault Android Cactus is regardless fun to play. There’s just something immensely satisfying about mowing down a swathe of rogue AI with a flamethrower. The levels are designed in such a way that they don’t get too stale or repetitive quickly, and in some cases they actually change as you progress through them, making it more difficult to progress.
They’re also not expansive spaces, which in this case works quite well – it makes you take full advantage of the different power-ups and your weapons, which in turn makes you work around the terrain, rather than just spinning round in a circle trying to shoot everything (which I can confirm results in premature death). At the end of each stage, you’re presented with a score and a ‘grade’ in typical arcade fashion, which adds a nostalgic element of fun and competition to the story, as well as replayability.
At various points you’ll be forced into boss battles which can unfortunately be quite frustrating to finish. They take a lot longer than normal stages and you’ll need to be a lot more careful when it comes to maintaining your charge, thanks to power drops being harder to come by. It breaks up the monotony of just shooting wave upon wave of enemies, though, which is much needed in games like this.
It won’t leave your mind blown, but it will give you an android with green hair and a flame thrower...
Generally, Assault Android Cactus is a decent twin-stick shooter by most standards. It jumps most of the hurdles presented by the type of game that it is, and it does have a progressive story alongside other play options including an endless mode. They all serve to add a little more replay value to the game, and it is the kind of game you can easily pick up on a whim and dive back into without much hassle.
The biggest downside is that because combat is such a massive part of the game (it revolving entirely around that one mechanic) it can become very samey and feel a bit stale a couple of hours in, which will likely have you frustrated in time. If you’re after an hour or so every now and then of mindless, fast-paced, frantic and explosive fun, though – especially if you’re playing alongside another person – Assault Android Cactus is a decent way to do that. It won’t leave your mind blown, but it will give you an android with green hair and a flame thrower, and really, can you say you don’t want that?
Speaking from personal experience, Rogue-like games are scary. They’re difficult, they’re punishing, they pull no punches. When you die, you’re dead, back to the beginning you go. It can be deflating, irritating, downright infuriating - but when you succeed - when you succeed, the feeling of elation holds few equals in gaming.
Every door opened grants industry, science and food, all of which are carried to new floors. Dust is never a guaranteed pick-up and resets between floors, making it the most valuable of the bunch. Rooms not powered by Dust have a chance to spawn enemies with every door you open, meaning you'll need to think carefully about what rooms you do and don’t power in order to not leave your crystal open to attack, and thus invite game over.
You’ll rarely, if ever, be able to power every room on a floor, and this is where the tower defence aspect comes into play. Your heroes can’t be everywhere - though you can recruit up to two additional companions to help you on your way - so defence modules are a must to protect the crystal and avoid ruin in your absence. It’s fairly standard and entirely functional tower defence fare; you’ll want to combine a considered range of modules in appropriately placed and sized rooms to ensure maximum monster-slaying efficiency.
It should probably come with a health warning, as you’ll undoubtedly forego exercise and sustenance in favour of clearing just one more floor… and then another… and then another.
Gameplay as a whole is a constant balancing act - do you splurge on defences to ensure your safety and subsequently head down to the next floor at an industry disadvantage? Scrimp and risk defeat at the hands of greed? When you find the exit, do you explore the remainder of the rooms for potential equippable loot and guaranteed resources, or avoid the risk and get out? These bouts of self questioning remain constant thanks to the unpredictable nature of the randomised dungeons. You can’t just settle into a routine and employ it for every run, because it won’t always be applicable, you’re kept on your toes and will need to improvise.
Having previously released on PC and touch devices, the controls have been reworked to be compatible with a gamepad. They’ll take a little getting used to, but given time things click and become perfectly comfortable. If you do struggle in the absence of a mouse or touchscreen, it's possible to pause the game and issue commands in your own time, which should negate any potential lingering issues.
You’ll want to take advantage of the pause function, not just for added efficiency, but because one tiny mistake can spell your demise. We once pressed X instead of A, which picked up the power crystal and launched an all out enemy assault instead of defending the room whilst leaving the crystal be. It was disastrous, three hours went down the drain. Failure can also fall in part to random chance, or RNG, which will definitely be deflating enough to put some people off - runs are not short and a lot of your time is placed at risk.
The lovely ambient soundtrack helps suppress any anger when the former occurs, encouraging you to persevere. For those who do, each failure is a learning experience. You step back into the dungeon with a better idea of how to overcome whatever’s thrown at you, how to manipulate the odds to your favour. Gaining this sense of control is more satisfying than defeating any boss.
As good Rogue-likes tend to be, Dungeon of the Endless is incredibly addictive. It should probably come with a health warning, as you’ll undoubtedly forego exercise and sustenance in favour of clearing just one more floor… and then another… and then another. Winning whilst meeting certain criteria also unlocks new escape pods, which serve as modifiers to alter the manner in which you play, and ensure longevity through added challenge and variety. We can easily see people sinking hundreds of hours into the game.
Amplitude Studios’ first Xbox One outing is a triumph. They’ve managed to take numerous quite complex systems and package them in such a way that it's accessible, whilst still very challenging and hard to master. It’s risk/reward gameplay condensed to a pure form - whatever the outcome of the risk taken, whether or not you receive a reward, it helps you to grow as a player. Most importantly, despite the frustrations of failure, you’ll have fun either way.
Note: The Xbox One version of Dungeon of the Endless features added co-operative multiplayer for 2-4 players via Xbox Live. Due to the review being conducted ahead of the game’s 16 March launch, we were unable to try and therefore rate this feature. Rest assured, it can only add value to the package.
I say old chap, is that Portal over there? No? It’d be too easy to get pulled in by Q.U.B.E’s sparse visuals and first person view and scream impostor, but there’s more here than initially meets the eye.
It’s a lovely system, and one that is easy to pick up. The opening section’s simple pull-out-blocks-to-make-stairs puzzles are quickly ramped up, to include the aforementioned pink floor switches, green block to green light puzzles and ball based examinations. They all work really well, the acid-test of this being that we never really felt frustrated during the five hours it took us to play through the game. There is a small issue here with a slight lack of a difficulty curve, as the puzzles feel longer rather than harder some of the time, but that’s a minor gripe that could be easily rectified.
The ball based puzzles were a particular highlight for us here at PTC, especially in the later segments of the game. These effectively turn into a game of pinball, where you chase the rolling ball through the cube, commanding blocks and switches to raise and turn, ensuring your orb makes it into the desired location at the bottom of the trough. It’s not the most original concept in the world, but it really is satisfying, and that’s what puzzle games are about first and foremost.
"It’s not the most original concept in the world, but it really is satisfying, and that’s what puzzle games are about first and foremost."
Unfortunately though, the game does have quite a few B-sides doing their best to sour the experience. This edition of the game comes complete with a story (this wasn’t present in the first student made version), and it’s a bad sci-fi one, complete with amateur dramatic society voice acting, and the kind of rancid scriptwriting that’s blighted the games industry for so long.
The beginning sees you “waking up” from a fifteen day coma. You’ve been sent to space to solve the mysteries of the floating cube, before it - and hold your breath here, folks - crash lands into earth, destroying everything and everyone ever! This stunning narrative contains two main characters communicating with your voiceless avatar; Commander Novak (your conduit with the space station), and an unknown (until the ending at least) man screaming about how Novak is a liar. It all plays out very predictably, but we won’t spoil it, just in case some of you have never watched a B-movie before.
It’s a shame as the vegetables of the story play on the loneliness of space travel, and what it can do to the mind - stronger writing and a better ending could have made this game a real contender, especially as mental health hasn’t really been used to drive a story in video games to this date.
The visual style of the game works well and fits the alone in space vibe, with stark white floor and ceiling panels juxtaposed nicely with the colours of the blocks. This scheme gets flipped on it’s head in later levels, as the white turns into dark shadowy corridors and rooms. The comparison to Portal is a given here too, but I really felt the influence of the Metroid Prime series too. Some of the corridors also reminded me of the Zelda series, with the way they curved, reminiscent of the wonderful Forest Temple from Ocarina of Time. The simple, reserved synth-heavy soundtrack aids in creating and continuing the feeling of being very alone, and Toxic Games should be commended for that.
To close, what you’re getting here is an interesting first game from a company pooling some major influences. Here’s hoping Toxic Games find a decent story, and simmer their gameplay ideas long enough to reduce the obvious similarities to Portal et al. There’s not a huge amount of replayability here, aside from a time-trial mode for each section, but if you see it on offer definitely give it a crack.