Connect with us

Game Reviews

‘Far Cry 5: Hours of Darkness’ – I Love the Smell of DLC in the Morning

Published

on

When it comes to DLC, quality can be extremely variable: from the notoriously absurd, such as the horse armor in Bethesda’s Oblivion, to the utterly sublime like The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine. When full-blown expansions went the way of the PSP, developers and publishers became accustomed to increasingly regular injections of post-launch income. Public opinion fluctuates on the acceptability of DLC. Some see it as a way of prolonging the lifespan of a game and extending its relevance. Others view it as ruthless profiteering via the piecemeal launch of previously cut content to justify the season pass cost.

Whether you love or hate the concept, it’s an established industry practice and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon. Ubisoft have refined the development of open world games to the point that it’s almost an exact science, but their track record when it comes to DLC is somewhat spotty. Never a company to willingly buck market trends, their shelf-life extending offerings have ranged from the dire to the excellent. They set a high bar back in 2013 when Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon boldly proclaimed that neon-drenched, arcade madness was still very much in style.

Since then their DLC releases haven’t been all that special, with the exceptions of The Hidden Ones and The Curse of the Pharaohs; both of which were excellent additions to the already fantastic Assassin’s Creed: Origins. Whilst they’re not above bombarding customers with bundles of cosmetic items and high-grade loot for cash, Hours of Darkness – the first piece of new content for 2018 game of the year contender Far Cry 5 – proves that the company is still capable of creating top drawer DLC.

As if the amount of time I’d spent shooting, stabbing, blasting and gliding my way across Hope County hadn’t already placed enough of a strain on my schedule, Hours of Darkness was poised to absorb even more of my time. With a running time of between four and six hours, that’s an entire evening just vanished into the mist-draped jungles of Vietnam never to be seen again. Do I regret it? Not even for a second.

The premise of the DLC is as light-weight as they come. You’ve crash-landed behind enemy lines at the height of the Vietnam war. Your only real objectives are to locate your lost squad mates and try to escape alive. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It’s anything but. The enemies in the base game were never much of a problem. Even a heavily defended base could be easily conquered with the assistance of your trusty companions and the kind of firepower that only an American would be proud to own. The soldiers in Hours of Darkness are ruthless, efficient, and relentless. You might think you’ve got the drop on an isolated squad but one botched stealth kill later and the engagement has rapidly escalated to the point where an entire platoon is out for your blood. Due to your relatively limited weaponry and more realistic load-out options, such ramping up of the action really forces players to pick the best moments to strike and sometimes to even avoid confrontation altogether.

The dense foliage and murky villages of the Vietnamese countryside may not be as varied or as visually appealing as the vibrant locales of Far Cry 5 but they never want for ambiance. As the story takes place over the course of a single night, the game world starts hidden in almost total darkness with light levels gradually increasing toward dawn as you approach your ultimate objective. It is a shame that so much of the landscape is perpetually hidden, as what you can see is visually distinctive and definitely sets itself apart from the earthy color palette of backwoods Montana.

I can’t help but feel it’s a missed opportunity, but that’s because I really wanted to see more of this environment rather than a reflection on the quality of what’s on offer. That is one of the best parts about DLC though for both gamers and developers. Smaller more tightly controlled and intimately designed environments give the developers a chance to experiment with ideas that go on to inform design decisions for their next big title, and offer players the opportunity to jump into an entirely fresh sandbox.

As more and more of your surroundings are revealed there is a palpable sense of relief but also of exposure, as the increased daylight makes it easier for you to be spotted. The result is a gameplay experience defined by stealth much more than you would expect from additional content for a game that expected and encouraged you to go all-out in pursuit of your objectives. The unlock system has been replaced by the incremental enhancement of performance related perks that grant you a series of benefits, such as auto-tagging enemies and faster movement, as you maintain your stealthy kill streak. As soon as you’re spotted, however, those perks disappear.

It’s a worthy incentive to focus more on sneaking around the battlefield and making sure you’re in the best position for each assault, and it would be interesting to see how such contextual bonuses could be applied on a broader scale in a full-scale title. Combat is always tense and rewarding if well-executed, but admittedly it can feel like an exercise in frustration if you’re spotted before you’re able to put your plan into action. Beyond the increased requirement for stealth, the core basics of the by now well-established Far Cry combat remain unchanged. It’s more of the same and that’s exactly what makes it work. As much as we gamers like to bemoan the lack of “innovation” on the part of developers, we are also creatures of habit. If a formula works then there is little point in developers straying from it too far, unless they want to intentionally provoke backlash.

As the first DLC from the Far Cry 5 season pass, Hours of Darkness, is somewhat underwhelming; but that is not a reflection on the quality or quantity of the content it provides. Far Cry 5 was so excellent in and of itself that anything that followed it could only be considered less by comparison. As something a little extra, this jaunt back in time to a snapshot of one of the most disastrous military campaigns on American history, proves to be an enjoyable and exciting addition to an already stellar game. If the next two packs, Dead Living Zombies and Lost on Mars, are anywhere near as good then together the three might just constitute the strongest suite of additional content to be released for a single game since CD Projekt Red finished up work on their Witcher 3 DLC. Hours of Darkness may not be anything particularly special, but like all DLC it did exactly what it needed to do. It brought people back to the game, kept them talking about it, and more importantly kept them playing it. Could it have been better? Yes, but at a price that would likely have been too damned high in both developer time investment and consumer financial outlay. As it stands, it works and it’s good enough to more than justify the purchase.

Chris is a Cambridge, UK based freelance writer and reviewer. A graduate of English Literature from Goldsmiths College in London he has been composing poetry and prose for most of his life. More than partial to real ale/craft beer and a general fan of sci-fi and fantasy. He first started gaming on a borrowed Mega Drive as a child and has been a passionate enthusiast of the hobby and art form ever since. Never afraid to speak his mind he always aims to tell the unvarnished truth about a game. Favourite genres: RPGs, action adventure and MMOs. Least favourite genre: anything EA Sports related (they're the same games every year!)

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Game Reviews

‘House of Golf’ is No Hole-In-One, But it is Below Par

‘House of Golf’ may feel appropriate for Switch, but a lack of variety and reused content make this course nearly reach above par.

Published

on

Perhaps adding the word “mini” to the title would have been far more appropriate regarding the in-game circumstances of Atomicom’s newest family arcade sports styled game House of Golf. In the slew of golf games currently available on the Nintendo Switch, House of Golf may feel the most appropriate for the console’s capabilities due to its key focus on simplicity, portability, and accessibility, but a lack of diversity in individual hole design and reused content nearly makes this humdrum course reaching above par.

Simplicity is a key focus within House of Golf’s core mechanics. Controls, menus, and even gameplay are as simple as video games can get. The left analog stick operates the camera and holding down the A button fires your ball with a distinct power meter located on the right-hand side of the screen. Your goal is to attempt to achieve a hole-in-one or stay below a par number that changes depending on course and difficulty- just like regular golf, mini-golf, or any form of golf you can imagine. It never gets more complicated than that.

House of Golf may claim that its selling point is that it contains over 130 different holes divided into 5 different environments- or rather rooms- and 3 difficulties, but variety becomes bland after less than an hour of playtime. Despite there being five different environments, after completing one course on either the medium or hard difficulty setting, you practically have experienced all there is to do. Courses always remain compact and easy to navigate, but the game never gets challenging or adds some sort of flair that allows each hole to stand out from one another. It is a shame considering that the fluid gameplay foundation the courses are built on might just be the most tightly controlled golf game available on Switch.

As the title of the game implies, every course is designed around the interior aesthetics of a house- a rather small one at that as the game chooses to focus on table-top scenarios- quite literally. Each hole is rapid-fire short and manages to achieve a miniature sense of scale. They are stylized well but the game often reuses assets for each room despite the settings being entirely different. The atmospheres themselves manage to create a comfy aesthetic for each hole that only adds more cheerful feelings to the laid-back easy-going gameplay on top of a soundtrack that is extremely mellow yet quaint, but when you are on a nine-hole course that never completely changes that atmosphere can become tiresome.

What initially seems like House of Golf’s greatest strength though is being able to choose any environment, hole, and difficulty directly from the get-go, but this feature quickly takes the game south rather unintentionally. As soon as you open up the game, players can accommodate to their own personal skill level leaving the vast majority of them to skip more than a third of the levels. With no learning curve or incentive to play the game on its lowest difficulties, House of Golf rapidly begins to dwindle in new content.

When it comes to the ranking system, it is designed exactly like a traditional mini-golf game where your goal is to achieve a set number of strokes that will keep you above par. Stars will be awarded to players based on performance- a hole-in-one obviously being the highest gold star rank a player can achieve and a triple-bogey being the lowest. These stars, however, only unlock one feature: golf ball designs.

Extra unlockable golf ball designs are the only in-game rewards to collect throughout the game- and it is nothing to look forward to or worthwhile to commit to. They are charming to gander at for more then a couple of seconds, but they serve no real purpose in the long run- not even when it comes to the multiplayer. Rather then these rewards being applied to each individual player’s ball, House of Golf does not allow players to choose what golf ball design they wish to use. For some ridiculous reason, whatever player one chooses is applied to every golf ball.

Speaking of, while the singleplayer can be rather tiresome, House of Golf’s one notable addition that might just keep you on the course for longer than a few hours is the inclusion of a local multiplayer ranging from two to six players. Multiplayer presents a higher-stakes challenge for each course, which makes gameplay not only far more satisfying to win at but overall entertaining to play. Due to the compact course designs, often you can mess with your friend’s positions and overthrow the score of each hole. Multiplayer was clearly the go-to way to play as it is the first option that appears on the main menu.

One thing that should be noted is that only one joy-con is required for everyone to play as there is no other option to use multiple controllers- a convenient addition that you have to wonder why more games do not have it on the Nintendo Switch. It is by far the game’s most redeeming quality that absolutely deserves mentioning. For a game where one player controls the field at a time, this streamlines a lot of issues outside even that of the game itself.

It is no hole-in-one to ride home about, but Atomicom has managed to create an arcade-style sports game that is a mix of both simplistically relaxing and mildly infuriating. In its final state, the lackluster courses can make this one turn into a quick bore, but adding a few friends to the multiplayer scene can turn House of Golf into a few delightful hours. At its retail price of ten dollars, any Switch owner planning on picking up House of Golf should wait for it to land in a sale target-hole. It is not bad by any means, but there are better places to look to fill your golf fix, especially those looking for a single-player experience. For a cheap alternative, however, it might just be worth it for the multiplayer alone.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

Published

on

Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Published

on

Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

Continue Reading

Trending