Tagged: ps4

This review is based of a physical copy of the game provided by the publisher. The Angry Birds Movie 2 VR: Under Pressure is available for $34.99 USD through retailers including AmazonBest BuyGameStop and Target.

While many argued the world would have to end before birds and pigs teamed up, it looks like that has happened sooner than we would have expected. While bonding over a common enemy – the eagles – the birds and pigs set out on an epic adventure, working together to man a submarine and dispatch hoards of eagle enemies.

Under Pressure VR doesn’t just create a single player experience however, as the company has leveraged the game into a great social experience, allowing one player to use the VR headset while the others assist, playing on the TV. On it’s own, Under Pressure VR isn’t doing enough to justify playing it solo – there are so many better solo VR experiences – but when I had the opportunity to bring both my kids into the action, we had a great time, for hours on end.

What’s important to know that, at least based on my experiences, no prior knowledge of what actually happens in the movie is necessary to play the game. While some things harken back to the source material, many online have indicated that it didn’t change their experience much, which is how video games tied to movies should be!

In VR and on the Screen

The VR player always serves as the captain of the submarine in Under Pressure VR, and that comes with a lot of responsibilities. For one, the captain is the only person who gets a full view of the ship, and what is going on across the entire play area. This includes the ability to look outside the ship and see what items could be floating in the water that could damage the submarine. The VR play actually mimics standard Angry Birds gameplay really well, as the captain serves as a catapult, shooting items – and even allies – around the ship to make sure things are maintained and points are scored.

The VR player will also haul in treasure that single screen players will need to deal with. And while this seems very simplistic, the difficulty increases quite quickly. Soon you will be balancing the need to refine treasure into bars for points, move bombs off the submarine, and much more. It’s a hectic game, but one that will make you laugh way more than you will cry.

Unfortunately, the difficulty of the levels soon pushed my kids out of the picture, and more experienced players had to be called in to complete some of the later missions. With only around 30 missions total, it’s probably quite obvious why things seem to get difficult, quickly.

Ultimately, however this game is great for young and old alike. While I would never recommend attempting to do this with only 1 extra friend on board, it is possible. However, I fully believe this game is best experienced with 3 other friends joining in on the action.

The Angry Birds Movie 2: Under Pressure VR is available now on PlayStation VR for 34.99 USD.

The Verdict

8Great

The GRID series has always played a second, or maybe even third fiddle to the bigger arcade racing franchises on consoles and PC.  The likes of Forza Motorsport, Need for Speed and Gran Turismo get the most love on the PlayStation and Xbox platforms, but Codemasters’ GRID franchise has stood the test of time.  Between the actual games named “GRID” and the “TOCA” titles that Codemasters has released this is one of the longest running driving series in video games.  Codemasters does great work on their racing games, and that’s mostly because they focus on what matters… the actual racing.   In a world where their biggest competitors have a repeatedly shot themselves in the foot by focusing on monetization instead of what matters, Codemasters’ GRID is a refreshing, albeit standard, racing game.

GRID is about what you expect from a Codemasters racing release.  It’s incredibly competent, with much of the love development love sunk into the driving experience instead of progression systems and ways to make you spend more money.  That said, it doesn’t stray too far from it’s own conventions.  It offers a fairly sterile arcade racing experience, rivaling contemporary racers in terms of visuals and presentation, while falling a little bit short on the content side.  It offers a single player campaign where you’re tasked with racing your way to the top of multiple circuits that have you racing in a variety of car-type specific events, a highly customizable multiplayer mode, and free racing.  While the selling points of GRID in terms of marketing are that “no race is ever the same” due to the fact that there are numerous racing personalities, the ability to gain nemeses in a race, and that there are dynamic AI events in each race, the end result is somewhat of a mixed bag.

Codemasters attempts to improve AI racers in GRID to make for a more authentic driving experience

The racing in GRID is good and it’s because of the aforementioned features of the game, but it’s not always apparent what that stuff means.  There are a number of different situations that you can encounter in a given race in GRID as well as many different ways to race.  The AI is as advertised, it’s varied, and you can’t always anticipate how other drivers will react to you in this game.  Sometimes they are super aggressive, swerving into your lane to try to impede your progress.  Sometimes they are passive, allowing you to pass them with little resistance.  Sometimes they’ll put you into a wall in retaliation.  Sometimes, the action isn’t revolving around you and your vehicle at all.   The AI personalities and dynamic events aren’t always easy to point your finger at and identify, but the Nemesis system most certainly is.  If you get a little too wild and start throwing your weight around, the AI will definitely clap back at you and become your nemesis.  This will definitely make things a little bit more difficult for you, however, the in-game system of rewinding the race make any problems you encounter pretty easily remedied.

GRID has approximately 80 cars in the game and there are 13 tracks with each one having different circuits or variants in them.  GRID is by no means the biggest racer in terms of content.  In fact, it’s fairly run of the mill when it comes to the content in the game in terms of cars and tracks, and there aren’t that many ways to play either.  You have your single player career mode, and then you can either play free play or online.  Within all of the modes, everything stays pretty much vanilla.  There is a light progression system that carries over across all facets of the game that allows you to earn things like profile improvements and accolade badges.  You’ll earn levels for competing in and winning races and the rewards don’t really feel all that rewarding.  You’ll also earn currency as well, which can be used to purchase cars which increase in value as you get the rare end of the spectrum.  As plain jane as GRID can feel at times, there is something curated about what’s here that makes it feel like it’s got just the right amount of content for a racer of this type.  You’ll hop into the action from the jump and it will be interesting because you aren’t necessarily starting out at the very far end of the automobile spectrum, far away from anything that would be considered fun to drive.  GRID gets you into the action right away, and it’s exciting because of that, but everything else just feels middle of the road.

A lot of GRID feels “middle of the road” when it comes to features, content, and modes

While the grind through career dangles the carrot of bigger and better vehicles, it just doesn’t have much else to really engage you.  On one hand, GRID is a very simplistic experience and it’s better because of it.  On the other, the standard set of modes with little else keeping you engaged can feel somewhat boring at times.  GRID is still a fine racer though.  It’s got a great racing feel, a wide enough variety of cars and tracks, a slew of difficulty modes and customizable options that allow you to tailor the racing to your likes and skill levels, AND it’s a got a great presentation that rivals the best in the genre.  It’s hard to go wrong with GRID if you’re looking for some good old fashioned arcade racing fun.

Those looking for the types of customization that we see in the bigger modern racers aren’t going to find it in GRID.  There are a ton of different custom liveries that you can apply to the vehicles in the game, and these can be edited with different color palettes to make them truly unique.  However, you won’t be spending much time doing any creation of your own.  This light touch to customization is also seen in the tuning of your vehicles as well.  Tuning is done prior to the race and it’s really only a handful of sliders to customize the experience per race.  It’s not quite the level that you see from other racers that allow you to really change things about your vehicle with a more granular approach.

The Verdict

Ultimately, Codemasters plays it safe with GRID, for better and worse.  There’s certainly a lack of features, less modes, and a lesser number of cars and tracks than other contemporary racers.  This is a no-frills arcade racer, but a very good one.  If solid racing action is the only thing you care about, GRID has it in spades.  The new features which lean mostly on the AI improvements to better the racing experience are a mixed bag, but they improve the overall quality of the game on the track.

No frills arcade racing action.

The Verdict

9Amazing

The Good: Available On: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Stadia
Published By: Codemasters
Developed By: Codemasters
Genre: Racing
US Release Date: October 11th, 2019

Trine 3 was a bit of a dud. In moving to 3D, Frozenbyte seemed to have bitten off more than they could chew, with a short campaign, clunky camera that made platforming a pain, and puzzles that didn’t quite feel rewarding to solve. At the time it seemed the franchise was done, with the Frozenbyte claiming budget problems had contributed to the under-baked game.

Enter Trine 4: a stronger, more confident game that wisely returns to the 2.5D design of the first two games. Not only is Trine 4 a return to form for the franchise, but it is perhaps the best Trine game to be released.

Off on a quest to retrieve the Nightmare Prince.

The story setup in Trine 4 is simple: Price Selius has escaped the Mage’s Academy, and his rogue magical abilities are causing his nightmares to come to life. Amadeus the Wizard, Sir Pontius the Knight, and Zoya the Thief are all reunited after a brief tutorial for each, and using the power of Trine, they must venture forth and retrieve the wayward boy. The same issues that plagued previous Trine stories are still present here: the humor remains banal in it’s wholesomeness, and the story isn’t really much of a story. It acts more as a reason to reunite our cast of heroes, point them in a direction, and send they off into a rather meaty 10-15 hour romp across the countryside.

But, oh, does Trine 4 send you on a beautiful trip. Each level has a personal feel to it, with a haunted mansion in a pumpkin grove punctuated by a heist within an Italian-influenced sunset masquerade. Frozenbyte does absolute wonders with the designs of each level, with few ever feeling like a repeat of another. There is a bewildering sense of wonder and whimsy, thanks to Trine 4’s commitment to its storybook-esque look. The colors on display are vibrant and rich, with a verdant greens giving way to pastel blues and whites in some levels.

There was a badger’s borough littered with little artifacts and details that belied it’s long existence as a warm home, at least prior to the nightmares taking over, and such world-building flairs are tucked into every corner of every level. There are three collectibles in each level as well, encouraging players to creatively scour each level if they wish to acquire them all, which further highlights the brilliant world design on display. The design is – plain to say – magical, and the whole experience is lifted up by Trine 4’s commitment to its wholesome fantasy aesthetic.

It’s often amazing what Frozenbyte has accomplished with their world and level design, having not only delivered a beautiful and varied world that looks great on both the regular PS4 and PS4 Pro, but in the feel of each as well. Every level in the game has a sort of gimmick for the heroes to overcome, whether it’s hardy purple crystals that have to be broken by a heavy metal object launched with a charge by the stalwart Sir Pontius, or various mechanisms that only Zoya’s elemental frost arrows are able to overcome. I seldom found a mechanic recycled among levels, and each level is littered with smart puzzles that lean into each hero’s abilities. This lends the game a fine sense of progression, as each new ability the heroes unlocks is put to immediate use. Some mechanics return towards the end of the game, but they feel more like a greatest hits trial leading up to the final boss instead of recycled due to a lack of imagination.

Not everything is a dream.

Speaking of bosses: that is an area Trine 4 isn’t as wonderful, with bosses acting as tedious puzzles you have to crack before moving on to the next excellent level. The first boss seems simple enough, but there is no real evolution to them after. An alchemy lab in which you need to use Amadeus to move cubes around to reflect light into a cauldron isn’t terrible, leaning into the game’s puzzle strengths, but the fights after are simple mechanics checks: can you use this one hero’s skillset in a rote encounter. None of them are especially difficult, and with friends they prove either trivial or maddening due to three of the five main boss encounters being designed around a sole hero.

Another fault of the game is its combat: it’s simply a chore to be locked into an arena with enemies you need to bash when there is a more engaging puzzle on the other side taunting you. Combat is functional at best, with each hero able to pick up additional abilities in a skill tree that help with both the puzzles and combat. You can get a frost stomp for Sir Pontius, freezing enemies and making them vulnerable to Zoya’s fire arrows, or you can invest in a slam option for Amadeus that allows him to virtually one-shot enemies with a well placed crate to the head. The small arenas and platforms intrude on this creativity, with most enemies rushing your hero, making it hard to swap around and play with ideas. Typically, you’ll default to Sir Pontius and resort to bashing enemy skulls in just to press through without issue, and that’s nowhere near as fun as the systems underneath would like it to be.

Embark with your friends at your side.

That same combat is made absolutely mindless if you are playing in co-op with either friends locally, or random people online. Yes, Trine 4 has fully featured co-op options, and they can be quite magical. That is, assuming you can communicate.

Playing in Classic Mode, where only one of each hero can be fielded at a time, the puzzles take on a new life (with some literally scaling up to multiple players). Proper verbal communication is damn near needed to make headway, and with a solid group of friends it proves to be a proper bout of chaotic fun. Screaming at our Zoya to tether Amadeus’ objects together so we could make a wrecking ball our Pontius could use to clear a barrier was one of the best co-op moments I had this year. Trine 4 absolutely excels as a cooperative experience, at least until you can’t communicate.

Playing with randoms with no means to talk to one another turns the experience sour, with many of the game’s puzzles requiring communication to overcome. There are so many physical solutions to any given puzzle that reward player creativity that having more than one person acting autonomously tends to lead to everyone experimenting with their own theories, with the team seldom synchronizing into a cohesive whole. It’s not really a fault of the game, per se, but with so many well designed puzzles littered across Trine 4’s breadth of levels, you’ll want a mic to overcome them with other people tagging along.

A sequel we didn’t need, but glad exists no less.

That’s the magic of a good Trine game: you get solid puzzle-platforming with a thread-bare story and unnecessary combat. In returning to form with this sequel, Frozenbyte has doubled down on what made the franchise great prior to the mishap that was the third entry. Environments are more varied and beautifully designed than ever before, and the physics-based puzzles never feel unfair or obtuse. It’s an apology letter as much as it is a sequel, as if Frozenbyte wants the world to forget Artifacts of Power ever existed. In Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince they largely succeed, having crafted a fun platformer that is great to play either solo or with friends (assuming everyone can communicate). If you loved the first two games, yet loathed the third, give The Nightmare Prince a play: you’ll be charmed by it’s whimsical ways, warts and all.

The Verdict

8Great

The Good: Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
US Release Date: October 8th, 2019

Anime Dark Souls is the term that’s been thrown around when describing Code Vein leading up to its release.  It’s a game from the creators of God Eater which takes the art style of that franchise and places players into a post-apocalyptic world to navigate with a rule set that’s largely been aped from the Dark Souls series.  In theory, this should be an incredible game and it is … at times.  The reality is that it’s a beautiful game that plays the role of a cringey Dark Souls impersonator.

Code Vein is rather impressive in some spots though.  The action RPG introduces some interesting characters across the course of the 30+ hour campaign.  It does take you to some beautiful locations, setting a compelling premise that has humans and revenants trying to survive a calamity that’s brought about blood lust to the world.  You’ll get glimpses of how things used to be in the world of Code Vein prior to this event, but for the most part you’re fighting your way through this post-apocalyptic dystopia.  There’s plenty of backstory and details regarding the many different characters that’ll meet.   More importantly, there’s an interesting universe that’s been created here.  Code Vein strays somewhat from the zombie end of the world trope to their own unique vampire-themed disaster.  Shift really does nail things from the story front when it comes to the general theme and cohesion of the world.  From the safe haven of your home base to the monster infested areas that you’ll visit, everything gels together to a level that Dark Souls hasn’t really achieved in that series.  That, and presentation, however, are about the only things that Code Vein does better than the popular From Software series it tries so hard to be like.

Code Vein is also quite impressive in terms of the amount of customization you can do.  There’s plenty of ways to create your own character to take into this world, and furthermore, there’s an incredible level of customization when it comes to character builds as well.  This customization allows you to fully tailor each aspect of your character from the way it looks to the way it plays and this is definitely a level of detail that we’ve never seen from the Souls series itself.  Code Vein looks like God Eater.  The art style and presentation draw heavily from that series.  That said, to call Code Vein an Anime Dark Souls is a spot on description, at least that’s exactly what this is trying to be.  It uses many of the gameplay rules from that series and really tries to shoehorn them into this world.  The results are less than impressive.  Where Dark Souls strengths come from solid core combat and the ability to break players spirits only to build them up through small victories throughout the experience, Code Vein feels flat almost all the way through.

Code Vein takes from the Souls series almost all of its gameplay systems, it takes many of its presentation aspects as well.  From small things like sound signals to fonts and notifications, there’s plenty of familiar parallels between the two.  If you went through a checklist of things to lift whole cloth from Dark Souls, Code Vein doesn’t miss any of the important beats.  And there are small similarities as well, with things like title screen, fonts, and many other similarities that go far beyond the core gameplay systems.  Sure, Bandai Namco publishes both games so it’s a in-house copying, but boy does Code Vein look the part of a Dark Souls game.  So much so that if you weren’t any wiser you may think that this is a From Software game.  But that’s all it really does, is look the part.

It’s far, far away from Dark Souls in terms of combat and boss design.  They get the level design mostly right when it comes to the world that’s been created, but it doesn’t have the connected feel that the Souls games have. Each of Code Vein’s level are a puzzle that needs to be solved through exploration and combat.  With each enemy that you kill or treasure that you’ll find you’ll earn points that can be used for upgrades.  Die and you’ll drop them where you lay.  If you want them back you’ll need to fight your way back through a level to get them or they’re lost forever.  There are times when things feel great in Code Vein, but more often than not combat feels loose with wide open windows for dodging attacks.  The parry system feels somewhat off and hard to master.  A general lack of enemy types and recycled environments don’t do the game any favors either.  With the core combat feeling lacking, everything sort of falls apart in one of these games.  To top things off you always have an AI companion in the game and it makes the moment to moment gameplay feel a little too easy.  There’s really no mastery curve, and like a bad button mashing beat ’em up, I found myself bored with the combat in the tail-end of the game.  Code Vein’s only real trick is that things get a little bit harder when you’re not tag teaming single enemies.  At which point the game goes from frustratingly easy to frustratingly hard as enemies just juggle you about.  The tight dodge timing from the Souls series and the intricate dance of dodges and parries just doesn’t feel relevant here, or necessary in most cases.  This is especially true of boss encounters where there just aren’t any standout battles.  Sure, they look good.  But, they just don’t feel that great to play or offer the type of challenge that Souls fans will enjoy.

The gameplay itself in Code Vein is lifted full cloth from Dark Souls.  That means you’ll be collecting “Souls” which in this game is called “Haze” and you’ll need to use it level up your character at a “Bonfire” which is called a “Mistle”.  These mistle save points allow you to fast travel or level up your character and spend your haze points.  You can fast travel back to your home base to purchase different items from vendors and level up or upgrade your weapons and armor.  It’s very much a Dark Souls game in its progression elements.

There are some new ideas here.  Finding Mistle does allow you to reveal a mini-map of the surrounding area. This allows you to track down different treasures more easily.  You can track your footsteps of where you’ve been.  You can even visit a Hot Springs area in the Home Base which will allow you to recover half of your lost Haze if you can’t make it back to the area to recover it yourself (This is pretty helpful if haze gets left in a boss fight area).  There’s also a dungeon master within your Home Base that allows you to play through areas called “The Depths” if you find the maps of these areas on your adventures.  This serves as a way to get haze or items alongside the main story path.  The only problem we had with this is that these Dungeons are a little basic and incredibly easy if you’re over-leveled for them.

Code Vein is a game about memory of a previous life and it does introduce a large cast of characters.  Those characters are represented by different fighting styles and you’ll constantly be unlocking new ones throughout the game.  Characters you meet on your journey or those back at your home base will give you their blood code, which you will then have access to customize and use as your own.  These Blood Codes have different unlockable passive and active abilities and these are unlocked through finding them during exploration in levels.  We found over 20 of these codes in the game and it really does change the way you play the game.  There Codes for casters, or close quarters combatants.  There are codes for ranged attackers or agile stealthy builds.  When you couple that with a variety of different weapons and blood veils (armor) to use, AND the character customization tools there really are quite a few ways that you can build out your character.

Where most games struggle to live up to the From Software standard, Code Vein does fall short as well.  There’s really no sense of mystery to this world.  That feeling of dread you had when facing that ultra-hard boss in Dark Souls just isn’t here in this game and with that it doesn’t deliver that same sort of feedback and feeling of accomplishment that the Souls does.  It’s not an easy task to make a Souls-like.  After all, Dark Souls has become one of the most well regarded series in the ARPG genre.  While Code Vein looks the part, it doesn’t quite get there from a gameplay perspective.  There are some things that you can copy when making a game like this, but Code Vein really misses the mark on some of the most important aspects.

The Verdict

If you go into Code Vein thinking that you’re going to get something on the level of any of the Souls games (or Bloodborne) you’re going to be a little bit disappointed.  The lackluster combat is at odds with an interesting premise, great presentation, and deep character customization.  It’s hard to pass up on it as a God Eater fan, but you’ll have to wade through a ton of mediocre combat to get to the good stuff here.