Aragami Review (PS4/X1): “Embrace the Shadows”


Lince Works takes us back a step in the stealth genre with Aragami. With many so-called stealth games to dilute the pool (Dishonored, Thief, Styx), it would have appeared as though the formula was set in place. Luckily for us, that’s where Aragami comes in and shakes things up a bit. By forcing the player to use their wits and plan accordingly, Aragami takes a well-needed step back. So does it succeed? Or does Aragami sulk in the shadows? 

Story: 4/5

You play as Aragami, a vengeful spirit summoned by a sorceress, Yamiko, who is being held captive by the pillaging “Warriors of Light”, Kaiho, who have been at war with the “Shadow Warriors”. Beyond what you are, Aragami starts off as a mystery that slowly unfolds as you meticulously make your way through the game’s 8 chapters, for a total completion time of around 12-15 hours. You are told that in order to free the sorceress and allow her clan to take vengeance upon Kaiho, you need to collect 6 talismans, each of which are heavily guarded. As you reclaim the talismans, you are reunited with lost memories; some of which belong to the sorceress, while some belong to the person you were before your death, and consequently your resurrection. Uncovering these memories is key to the story of Aragami, but so is paying careful attention throughout each chapter. Enemies talk amongst one another and provide valuable information that can sway your perspective as to what is going on with the mysterious sorceress and where you come in as the deadly assassin (or ghostly shadow depending on your preference). 

After paying attention to enemy NPC’s conversations, I was sure I had the story figured out way before I thought I was supposed to. And then Aragami did something… mischievous. It kept me guessing. Not enough to definitively change my mind, but just enough to ensure I wasn’t sure. This was achieved by playing with the child-parent-like bond between Yamiko and Aragami in the main cutscenes. Aragami, really not sure of anything, knows he can only trust one person – Yamiko, who gave him life. However, as Aragami discovered more memories of both himself and Yamiko, he begins to become troubled and confused. Nonetheless, his faith in his creator and the knowledge of his only living purpose, revenge, keeps him moving forward. While Aragami did end how I anticipated, I thoroughly enjoyed the character development and the slight toying with my emotions throughout the story. Through the main cutscenes and small gems riddled in the gameplay through AI conversations, you are able to see all sides of this feud and you come to an understanding of how everyone got to where they are. It was almost poetic how at the last scene unfolds. And just when you think you know how it all will end, the developers throw one line – two words – to make you sit back and truly understand the struggles of these warring factions.

Gameplay: 5/5

Aragami is not like the stealth games we’ve come to know. In fact, after playing Aragami it is difficult to consider most other games as actual “stealth games”. Aragami himself has actually no combat capabilities, meaning once you are discovered you must run and hide, or carefully remove your opponents with finesse. This sort of limitation is not seen in many stealth games, as many of them offer you a chance to fight back and then flee if necessary. You are however given a small set of skills that are carefully designed for different scenarios.

You start out with the basics: shadow teleportation. It’s a simple concept to start, you can only move quickly between shadows, using up a small amount of shadow power that is displayed on your cape. This shadow power is the basis for all of your abilities. It restores in shadows and gets quickly removed when standing in light sources. You soon gain the ability to create shadows to teleport into, albeit at the hefty cost of shadow power. After this however, you are on your own to develop Aragami as you see fit. You discover cleverly (and frustratingly) placed scrolls which offer skill points that can be spent on different shadow powers. There are six of these powers in total, three are deemed as defensive, while the other three are offensive. It is an interesting classification as I personally would not consider many of them offensive (save for the kunai, which when thrown instantly kills a single opponent). A better nomenclature for all of the skills would simply be “strategic”, and that is definitely the theme of the game and I believe what the developers were trying to drive home. Almost any of the abilities can be used in a number of different ways, something that was truly a pleasure to explore and trial! My personal favorite was a shadow vortex trap, that when placed could be triggered from any location and instantly (and silently) move any number of nearby enemies into another realm. I found that in order to progress through certain situations, some skills were more useful than others. By the last chapter, I discovered uses for all skills that I hadn’t thought of before and was using each of them frequently! Some might consider these abilities overpowered but luckily there is a limitation to them. You are allowed only two uses per ability. However, shrines that restore all abilities are located throughout each level, and a particularly badass stealth kill skill can restore one use to the equipped ability. 

Like most stealth games, you are provided the option of killing everyone, no one, or somewhere in the morally unsound grey area. Unlike most stealth games, you are given natural tools to aid you in your endeavors as well. The first two talismans you acquire offer you a marking ability, which upon upgrading can track enemies through walls, and something I feel every true stealth game should have: a noise maker. Previous games we’ve seen whistling or banging your sword on objects to distract nearby guards, in this game it is a simple bangle. This small tool is revolutionary in stealth games and has a huge impact on gameplay, so I was thrilled to see it included. 

Aragami gets something else right that honestly was completely unanticipated: boss fights. Besides a rather fast-paced technical section, there were in fact three distinct boss fights and each of them were expertly handled and impressively varied. Considering the limited nature of most stealth games, it is often difficult to incorporate mechanics outside of the normal gameplay. However, Aragami’s clever abilities payed off well here. By thinking outside of the box, I was able to use my abilities in ways I didn’t even think of before in order to overcome a more challenging threat. This was truly a unique experience as many previous games that attempt this often result in an awkward encounter for the player.

Boss fights aren’t the only thing Aragami does different than its “not-so-stealthy-anymore” predecessors; it also does co-op. You can play through the entire campaign with a friend on a separate console and vanquish your enemies (or not) in all-new and exciting ways! Tag teaming using different abilities in conjunction actually works very well, and having two sets of eyes on the playing field can result in a much smoother run – so long as you’re both on the same page!

Completion of the main story allows your character’s progression to persist so there is plenty of replay value in Aragami. Whether it’s going back to collect all of the scrolls; completing missions with different objectives; or simply going through it cooperatively, this is by far not a single playthrough game.

Graphics: 3/5

Aragami’s simple nature of shadow-versus-light is an easy contrast to play with, and the developers at Lince Works executed it very well. Aragami himself takes on a very satisfying form, changing from tones of black, grey and vibrant red when in the light, to a terrifying all-black when in shadows to let you know when you’re in better hiding. Environments are well decorated but sometimes can feel un-blended depending on the level. There were frequent instances when upon moving the camera, the point of view would jump out of bounds and then suddenly back in; and quite frequently the framerate would drop massively. This led to experiences of stuttering or input lag that in more than one instance resulted in death. Unfortunately, all the careful timing and planning in the world cannot hold up to random spikes and dips in framerate, and in a game where timing can be everything, this can be quite an issue. Luckily the game didn’t seem to suffer any additional consquences of playing online and most deaths are easily recoverable. The animations of various abilities were well thoughtout, smooth and satisfying. I could watch Aragami’s shadow snake coil an enemy and bring him to the shadow realm over and over again and never tire! There was only a handful of clipping cases and overall I felt it was a smooth experience playing through each of the levels, save for a few light intensive ones.

Sound: 4/5

Not only do you have to watch your surroundings and enemies’ movements, you also need to listen to them and the environment. Something that can be overlooked at times in stealth games is carefully handled in Aragami and that is the ambience of the game. The soft and delicate soundtrack plays lightly in the background of each mission. If you didn’t focus on it, you wouldn’t know it was there – and that is exactly how it needs to be to allow your complete, undivided attention to the matter at hand. Only when you are discovered does the music quickly escalate to the heart-pumping chase track that will ensure you’re filled with panic as you realize your mistakes. Footsteps from all sources project well; small light fire sources glisten in your ear and conversations from enemies are clearly heard. Interestingly, the main characters are not completely voiced, relying on text to comprehend any dialogue, but the emotion is there. Regardless, Aragami succeeds in the delicate addition of important sound balancing.

Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10

Aragami is a unique and enjoyable stealth game that succeeds in the minimalistic inclusion of its core elements. Its story was somewhat predictable, but it did a decent job of keeping me interested through a carefully crafted relationship, along with addicting skill and planning-based gameplay. While some graphical issues would occasionally remove me from the full experience, I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of actual boss fights and a well-functioning co-operative mode. With great replay value for those who enjoy proving themselves, it is well worth at least a single playthrough for those who enjoy taking their time in a game.

Pros:

+ Simplistic stealth mechanics that create a true stealth game
+ Creative abilities to aid in problem solving
+ Clever and original boss fights
+ Functioning co-operative mode

Cons:

– Some graphical issues
– Story shows its hand very soon

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Aragami! Copy reviewed on PS4.

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Mark McMorris Infinite Air Review (PS4/X1/PC): “Shreddin'”

Snowboarding games in the past decade have been very few and far in-between. Yes, we’ve seen EA reboot SSX (yet still no mention of a new one this generation), and we’ve also seen Ubisoft attempt it with its mediocre Shaun White’s Snowboarding. Developer HB Studios, known for their golf simulator title, The Golf Club, is giving the much needed snowboarding genre a try with their latest title, Mark McMorris’ Infinite Air. Is this the definitive snowboarding simulator?

Gameplay: 4/5

Infinite Air is not your SSX-style snowboarding game, so let’s clear that up right away. Instead, HB Studios aimed to make a physics-based snowboard simulation game. Essentially, it’s the “Skate” of snowboarding games…and that’s a good thing. Infinite Air has players immediately start with a tutorial to get a feel of the control scheme. It starts simple and gets more advanced as that progresses, from simply learning how to turn, to how to do flips. It is a necessary tutorial to have since the controls are all physics-based. Now you may see some comparisons to Skate being made with this game, and again, that’s because this legitimately aims to set that precedent…but with snowboarding. Controlling the boarder feels responsive and fairly smooth, giving a weight and feel that’s authentic to snowboarding.

Infinite Air has you partake in Circuits as the main campaign mode. This consists of four varied events across six tiers. Each event has five objectives that can be completed, whether it be to score a set number of points, pulling off a specific trick, placing 1st in an event, earning a certain grade during a competition, etc. It keeps each event fresh and will test your skills in a variety of areas. Naturally, as you progress up to each tier, the challenges will increase in difficulty. There are different style events as well, whether it be slopestyle, big air, backcountry, etc. Each event style does change up the flow and really lends to keeping things fresh and varied. The final event of each tier has you going up against another famed snowboarder, those of whom can be unlocked.

There are several big name snowboarders to be found here. However, if none of the characters are to your liking, you can create your own character. While the customization isn’t enormously in-depth, there’s plenty of clothing types and accessories to choose from. Not all of these customization items are unlocked from the beginning. You unlock more by completing more challenges in the Circuit mode.

The controls will certainly take time to get a feel for. For example, jumping in this game won’t be a simple button-press. You will have to emulate the jump using the right-analog stick by holding down and then pushing up, or vice-versa (depending if you want to ollie or nollie). Granted, you can also hold down both L2 & R2 simultaneously and release to jump. Timing is important too, because you can’t pre-wind your jump early or too late if you want to get the most air. You can control spins using the L2 & R2 buttons (or LT/RT on X1) and like jumping, you’ll need to time your pre-wind just right to get the most spin. You’ll control the direction of the flips and spins, as well as where to grab the board with both analog sticks. Grabbing the board utilizes the L2/R2 buttons as well. Grinding rails occurs naturally and automatically, dependent on how you land on the rail itself. Is this sounding like Skate’s trick system at all? Again, not to say it’s copying directly from it, but rather incorporating it in similar fashion. After all, it’s an entirely physics-based game, as Skate was. Landing tricks will net you various statuses as well: Buttcheck, Sloppy, Ok, and Clean. Honestly, the trick system is very challenging to grasp at first and will take a solid amount of time. However, stick with it for a while and you’ll start pulling off some sick tricks. There’s an immensely gratifying feeling pulling off a 2160 roast beef flip (that’s a legit trick name apparently) while getting some crazy air. 

Now one of the biggest features that sets Mark McMorris Infinite Air apart from its competition this year (Snow and Steep) is the World Editor mode. This lets you create an entire mountain to your liking. This where things get really impressive. There are roughly 100 set pieces to place on the mountain. You’ll fly the chopper around the mountain, finding spots to tweak to your liking. You can sculpt the snow, whether you want to just smooth it out or grade it. There are a variety of ramps, rails/jibs, buildings, nature and other objects you can utilize. You can scale objects, adjust the height and tilt of them, snap them to the mountain (or have them float above ground if you’d like), and rotate them to any degree. You can even use a ruler tool that gives you an in-depth breakdown of distance, angle degree, width, etc. It has an intricate degree of depth for sure, and one that sets a standard in this genre. Furthermore, you can create your own runs on the mountain for others to try out. This is truly a fully fleshed-out mode. Publishing a mountain gives players an entire mountain of your creation to explore, as well as runs to tackle. There’s even leaderboards for your runs, adding some competition and activity to your mountain. It’s easy to lose hours upon hours creating a mountain that lives up to your imagination.

The World Editor mode is so simple to use and incredibly intuitive.

Additionally, the game does have a traditional multiplayer mode known as Live Ride. This has you inviting your friends onto the mountain to shred together. Unfortunately, during the time of our review, we were not able to test this feature out properly. There is also no split-screen multiplayer support.

The game does have a few issues that slightly takes away from the gameplay experience. First off, when you bail and “get up”, the screen refreshes with you getting back on your board. As opposed to getting you back on track, it literally respawns you right where you bailed. The issue with this is if you collided with the wrong side of a ramp or in between two objects, you will find yourself struggling to get out of that spot. The other issue is a few times I found myself facing the uphill direction when respawning. When this happens, it can be pretty frustrating. However, it doesn’t heavily hurt the overall gameplay experience, and is something that can honestly be patched.


Graphics:
3/5

Infinite Air’s visuals are quite nice and crisp. Environments have a clean, sharp look to them, with nice looking textures. Lighting effects here are solid, but there are some jagged-looking shadow effects on the snow at times. The snow looks great overall, with backcountry snow deforming as you shred through it and snow park graded snow being more compact. Riders animate smoothly as well, providing very believable animations whether carving, spinning, grabbing, or bailing. Since the environment generates, you will notice trees in the far distance popping up. The game does run at 30 fps, but there were a few instances where it dropped to the low 20s. It didn’t impact the control input much, but did take away from visual presentation a bit when that occurred. Interestingly, the developer allowed players to tweak visual settings such as draw distance effect, texture quality, etc. Although, even switching all the settings either to off or low didn’t seem to boost game performance. Despite some technical performance hiccups, Infinite Air is still a nice looking game without question.


Sound:
4/5

The audio presentation is certainly strong in Infinite Air. The sound of the wind as you speed down the mountain, the snow being carved, the board landing after getting some big air…it all sounds like you’re on the mountain yourself. When you get air, the music becomes more subtle to give a more dynamic feel. Even bailing has the music take a subtlety with an airy tone. The soundtrack definitely does a great job keeping you in the experience. Consisting of a mix of rock and techno music, it’s a very adequate selection of tunes that nails the game’s pacing. All-in-all, the audio department is very well done and keeps you drawn into the experience.


Replay Value:
4/5

Infinite Air’s title has the word “infinite” in there to convey the sense of seeing endless things on the mountain. Whether it be your creations, other’s creations or just seeing what the game procedurally generates before editing a mountain. While the game’s online mode seems to rely on inviting a friend to your mountain, and no public matchmaking, this limits you a bit in this aspect. Despite that though, between the game’s Circuit mode, browsing runs others make, tackling Daily Challenges, or creating sweet mountains, there is plenty here to keep you coming back for quite some time.

Overall Score: 7.5 out of 10

Mark McMorris Infinite Air clearly aims to be the Skate of snowboarding games, and certainly does a great job achieving that. What’s here is a snowboarding simulator that is very skill-based and challenging, but incredibly engaging to keep coming back to. Despite a few technical qualms, this is a much needed snowboarding game this generation. Snowboarding fanatics, as well as fans of Skate, will definitely want to give this a go. With the great amount of content, challenging yet gratifying trick system, and amazing World Editor, this is certainly a mountain worth shredding on. Hands-down, this is snowboarding’s answer to Skate.

PROs:

+ Skill-based, realistic trick system
+ Plenty of variety
+ Appealing visuals
+ Strong audio
+ World Editor is sublime

CONs:

– Occasional framerate dips
– Respawning is wonky
– Multiplayer doesn’t have public matchmaking

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Mark McMorris Infinite Air! Copy reviewed on PS4.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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Putty Squad Review (PS4): “Silly Putty Is More Fun”

Putty Squad Wallpaper

Back in the days of gaming, platformers were the ultimate go-to games. Who didn’t love the challenge and finesse of a fun, colorful 2D side-scroller? During the 16-bit era, UK developer System 3 had created a title called Putty Squad for the Amiga console in 1994, but never saw the light of day in retail. The review copies of the game were actually sent out to the press but for some reason, the game never got published. It is now 20 years later and Putty Squad is actually released to the public for all to experience. The question that remains is, has it stood the test of time?

Gameplay: 2/5

Putty Squad is a 2D platformer that has you in control of Putty, our blue blob hero of the journey. You’ll explore nine worlds in Marathon Mode (the game’s campaign), all varying between jungles, deserts, snowy plains, etc. Each level has you saving the red putties taken captive by Scatterflash and his army of cronies. The reason for this? Well, that’s never explained, nor is there any story or background to go off of. However, this is a retro game that was originally developed two decades ago and doesn’t need any elaborate story to go off of. That being said, Putty has a decent amount of abilities at his disposal.

Aside from moving and jumping, Putty can form blob fists to punch enemies out of the way. Collect enough stars in an area, and Putty will upgrade his ability to gain electricity around his fists or even launch explosive sheep (yes, you read that correctly). You can even acquire certain special items like nitro bombs, a pod that you can fly in, and rockets to name a few. Since you’re controlling a blob, the character can move like-so. The Square button is an integral button since you’ll use that to have Putty prepare stretching movement. For example, to climb ladders, you will have to hold Square and pressing Up on the D-Pad or Analog Stick to have Putty stretch upwards and latch onto an object to pull himself up to. To climb down objects, you’ll have to do the same except pressing Down. To move faster along the platforms, you can hold Square and press Left or Right to stretch Putty forward. Even if there are little steps, Putty will climb up or down them smoothly just stretching in the direction of it. It’s a nice touch. Putty can even inflate himself to elevate to harder to reach areas. He can inflate up to three times, each making him bigger and elevating faster. Careful though, as Putty can pop from over-inflating and drop him back down below.

Putty Squad Gameplay 1

Putty will have to face off against a ton of enemies, whether it be cat soldiers, toads, sultan cats, and many more different types. The enemies vary in each world, fitting the theme of the environment. Dealing with enemies single-handedly isn’t much of an issue. However, the game dishes out a barrage of enemies on-screen that can be overwhelming and a downright confusing mess at often times. While Putty can withstand a decent amount of damage (he has 5 hearts and can take 2-3 hits on each heart), there are enemies and traps that kill Putty instantly. These instances can be incredibly frustrating due to how indistinguishable the enemy or trap is where it would even be considered an instant death. You only get 2-3 lives per level and when you die, you start at the beginning of the level but with the progress of putties you’ve rescued. If you’re ever looking for where the red putties are, you can pull out the handy Map Mode with the L2 button. The game will pause and you can scroll across the level to see flashing red blips of where the red putties are held captive or need rescuing.

One of the immensely frustrating moments in Putty Squad is the lack of hit detection Putty will receive; it’s practically non-existent. There were countless moments where Putty would take damage yet there’s no indication or feedback to showcase this. This would lead to scenarios of having full health to only hearing the “near death” audio in a matter of seconds. Another frustrating factor is when going into the next level, you will carry over not only the amount of lives you have, but also your current health state. While old-school games were notorious for carrying over your lives count into the next stage (and that’s completely fine), carrying your health over is questionable. When you lose all your lives, you’ll just get to retry the level again with a full health state and two lives. It’s just odd that at the very least, your health doesn’t refill at the start of a new level.

Putty Squad Gameplay 6

For a platformer, the controls are not as fluid as it should be. We all know that platformers require fluid, responsive controls and while Putty Squad isn’t as intensive with this, it can become an annoyance. Jumping doesn’t feel refined, making jumping on enemies or certain platforms more of a chore than it needs to be. Combat is handled in an odd manner as well. You’ll press R1 to attack to the right and L1 to attack to the left, which isn’t your standard controls for attacking in a platformer. I’m all about trying new elements or mechanics in a genre, but this one just didn’t feel right. Even when inflating Putty, to deflate you’ll have to press Down on the D-Pad or Analog Stick, which never felt natural to do honestly. Putty Squad’s overall mechanics aren’t terrible, but there are enough issues where it hurts the experience and makes it a chore to play at times.

Putty Squad Gameplay 5

Graphics: 3/5

Visually, Putty Squad is a colorful and vibrant looking game. The environments are very nicely detailed, with lush colors littered across the screen. Character animations and models are also pretty well done for the retro style the game is going for. Framerate holds up pretty steadily as well, no matter how much is happening on-screen. However, the biggest issue with the visuals is that the background and foreground clash, resulting in confusing level design layouts. For example, you can run on a platform and then fall right through it due to the slightest variation in color palette (which is barely even evident unless you very carefully scan the screen). Also, enemies and Putty can blend into the background a bit too easily causing things to get unnecessarily chaotic. It’s an overall nice art style, but one that’s too busy at times and starts to conflict with the gameplay. While the game is on the PlayStation 4, there’s nothing here that’s shown that couldn’t be done on a previous generation console. The graphics are certainly serviceable and it looks nice, but it’s nothing that really impresses.

Putty Squad Gameplay 4

Sound: 3/5

Putty Squad’s audio is pretty solid all-around. Sound effects also round up to be quite decent and make the game feel retro. There’s even a cool sounding announcer to announce when you’ve collected a “new sticker” that sounds like the announcer from Killer Instinct. It may seem weird to have that kind of voice in a game like this, but it actually sounds cool. The soundtrack is quite catchy, with songs fitting the theme of each world and matching the action on-screen. While it’s not at the caliber of anything “great”, what’s here is certainly good and catchy enough to stay with you for a short while after the experience.

Putty Squad Gameplay 3

Replay Value: 3/5

Putty Squad has a good amount of content to have you coming back for more. Aside from the solid length of the Marathon (campaign) mode, there’s a Challenge mode that has you completing levels with a variety of objectives. On top of that, you can go back and try to collect all the stickers scattered throughout levels to complete your Sticker Book. Additionally, each level has you earning star badges to show if you’ve completed a level without losing a life or if you collected all the stars within an area. There’s no denying that Putty Squad has content for the $29.99 asking price. The main hinderance is mainly dealing with the game’s unbalanced mechanics. Regardless, it’s a game I did find myself returning to on-and-off.

Putty Squad Gameplay 2

Overall Score: 11/20 = 5.5 out of 10

Putty Squad is a 20-year old game that finally sees the day of light after being restricted from release on the Amiga console due to those games being removed off shelves. The lush visuals are quite nice to look at and the game is mildly entertaining at times, but it can become a frustrating experience for the wrong reasons. It’s by no means an awful game, and there’s enough of a niche to it that retro side-scrolling fans may get some enjoyment out of it.

Pros:

+ Nice looking environments

+ Catchy soundtrack

+ Good amount of content

+ Only $29.99

Cons:

– Level designs are unpolished

– Hit detection on Putty himself is almost non-existent

– Background and foreground clashes making it utterly confusing what is and isn’t a platform to stand on

– Absurd and random amount of enemies on-screen

– Combat is awkward

– Controls are a bit odd and not fluid

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Putty Squad! Copy reviewed on PlayStation 4.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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