Brut@l: Extended Thoughts

Just last Friday, I made my debut as a DToid staff member with my review of Brut@l. I found it to be rather mediocre, but at least acknowledged the game was well made. I, sadly, did not finish the game before posting the review, but I stood with conviction in my verdict.

Not one to let stones be unturned, I plugged away at reaching the finale to see if my opinion on Brut@l would change; overall, I’d say no. In a few ways, yes, but not for the better.

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The biggest issue with Brut@l is that the camera is just too finicky. Since the game deals with permadeath, failing to make it across a gap results in an instant game over. It feels cheap and out of the players hands when that happens.

Another problem comes from the randomly generated dungeons. Since there aren’t any pre-determined setpiece moments, a lot of the game just blends together. If you speedrun through (skipping all the upgrades, enemies and collectibles), you could finish the game in an hour, but most people won’t be able to do that.

The combat is too simplistic to remain fun for long. The enemies start ramping up in hit points and your weapons fail to get any stronger, unless you’re lucky enough to have the game grant you a tome for a stronger weapon.

You can, eventually, unlock talismans that grant you small buffs, but even that is dependent on the randomizer. Having so many options out of your control just makes for a really frustrating experience.

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I’d be more forgiving if the game had occasional boss battles, but the only such moment occurs on the final floor. When I, eventually, got there, I was a little thrilled. It was finally something different in the game.

Sadly, the joy ended almost immediately upon tackling the boss. He’s pretty easily disposed, but monotony sets in and the game falls into a groove that isn’t very much fun.

You enter a small room with the boss sitting on a perch. He summons a wave of monsters which you then need to dispose of. After that, you collect an ASCII letter (in this case, a special V) and repeat the process.

Once the two waves are down, you can lower a crossbow that then shoots off one of the three heads on the boss. He then destroys the crossbow and flies off. Now you have to repeat that process two more times.

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Or stand like an idiot because your inventory is full and you can’t pick up the damn item to initiate the wave!

I’m fine with the game encouraging more exploration, but why does it take 26 floors to finally have this happen? Why weren’t there more boss battles peppered throughout the game? Having one every five floors may be a bit excessive, but every 10 wouldn’t be so bad.

For that matter, why is 26 the floor limit? Why wasn’t more care put into distinguishing the level design? I know something like The Binding of Isaac is based around randomly generated floors, but the pool that Isaac draws from to create levels is pretty varied. Brut@l’s is not.

Sometimes you can get four levels in a row that all have the same beats. A poisoned floor, bottomless pits and locked chambers that require you to destroy a wave of enemies; it’s just boring after an hour or two.

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As a matter of fact, I almost feel like giving the game a five is being generous. Sure, everything works, but it’s so devoid of creativity that it almost feels insulting. Why would you spend $15 on a game that couldn’t be assed to create fully developed levels?

Again, the concept is sound. I don’t mind tinkering around with core mechanics that can change up on each playthrough, but those mechanics need to be very solid. When combat devolves into just mashing Square and jumping away, your game has failed.

I’m sure Brut@l has fans out there, but I don’t see what they do. The art style is the most realized thing in the entire package; everything else feels like half measures thrown in a big pot and set on low heat.

Still, I did actually finish the game. I won’t let something defeat me. I can’t say the same for others. That’s why I won’t change my original review score. Everything I originally said still stands.

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Without abusing save game backups, most people are not going to finish Brut@l. I guess the game lives up to it’s name, but it could do with a lot more polish.

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Sigy Says – Ridge Racer: Unbounded Review

I’m not quite sure what I expected with Ridge Racer: Unbounded. The title sounded cool and I had heard decent things a few years back, but I never realized that Namco Bandai had tried their hand at a Burnout game. When I first loaded the game, I was delighted that this was taking a more destructive approach to racing.

After I finished the first event, I knew something was very wrong. The previous Ridge Racer games were all about speed. Tight turns, tighter controls and hilariously awful translations; that is what gave Ridge Racer its charm. All of that gets thrown out the window for Unbounded in an attempt to modernize the series.

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Ridge Racer Unbounded (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC [Reviewed])
Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release: March 27, 2012
MSRP: $9.99 (on PC), $29.99 (Consoles)

For starters, the graphics are darker and more realistic than ever before; the pace has been slowed a bit and the cars feel far too weighty. Drifting, which is an integral part of the track design, is so fucking busted that I nearly quit in fury a few times. Busted explains a lot of things with Unbounded, but it applies more to the controls then the arenas you’ll be tearing apart.

The newest addition with Unbounded is the destructible environments. I have to give credit where credit is due; Unbounded does offer an impressive amount of course carnage. While the props are basically made of styrofoam, your car can glide through things and not immediately crash. Sadly, that’s about the only decent thing in the tracks.

As for regular buildings, your car typically gravitates towards them. Barely clipping them will usually cause your car to smash up, but sometimes you go flying through the air or spinning in circles. While that should be realistic, the game has an awful tendency to reset your car before your crash site. This causes a tremendous amount of wasted time in Time Attack events and often causes you to lose up to 7 places in race mode.

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As for regular buildings, your car typically gravitates towards them. Barely clipping them will usually cause your car to smash up, but sometimes you go flying through the air or spinning in circles. While that should be realistic, the game has an awful tendency to reset your car before your crash site. This causes a tremendous amount of wasted time in Time Attack events and often causes you to lose up to 7 places in race mode.

These should be fun, but the physics and AI of the game are so borked that I couldn’t wrap my head around them. At times, you fly out of the gate and pass everyone with ease. Other times, the opponents are beyond hard and you’ll hardly catch them. Sometimes you’ll smash through highlighted objects only to immediately crash once the automated cutscene ends. You’ll even make jumps only to see your car barrel rolling through the air, despite not clipping anything.

There is also some horrible graphical glitch that causes constant flickering for upwards of 15 seconds at a time. It obscures some of the track and leads to wiping out or missing turns. It also looks terrible and gives me a headache, but that may be a personal issue.

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What isn’t personal is information about your cars. The stats are shown before you decide on your vehicle, but they aren’t really reliable. Maybe this is more down to individual playstyles, but the car with the highest speed stat should be the fastest one on the track.

There are also some cars that are carbon copies of others (excluding the pointless DLC) and others, still, that have mostly the same stats, but are higher in key areas. It makes certain cars completely worthless after reaching higher driver levels.

Then there is the lack of course diversity and the general sluggishness to the controls. It just doesn’t feel pleasant to play Ridge Racer: Unbounded. I had fun, at times, but not enough for me to recommend this to anyone. The lackluster campaign and hilariously anti-climactic ending just rub salt in the wound.

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The online portion is completely non-functional. From the sound of what it included, it could have remedied this package. Racers were given the ability to customize events and challenge others worldwide. While it may have been frustrating to deal with the controls, I could see smashing people into walls as being a blast.

Still, that doesn’t work. Namco Bandai shutdown the servers in 2015 and have basically cut the game in half. The price tag, at least, reflects the lack of multiplayer, but it still sours the overall package. Having courses made by other players would be outstanding, even if the game feels rushed and sloppy.

It doesn’t help that there isn’t a split-screen mode at all. I know PC games typically don’t offer split-screen, but even the console ports of Unbounded lacked the feature. In other words, the multiplayer was basically a bulletpoint on features for the game. No one actually cared about molding it into a celebrated feature (something that should be sorely missed upon it’s closure).

Overall, I just wouldn’t bother playing this. Unless you just have a fondness for the Ridge Racer name, there isn’t much here that hasn’t been done better in other racers. Unbounded mostly made me pine for a new Burnout or to return to Burnout: Revenge. Even the crappy portable Burnout games are better than this drivel.

3

Poor

Went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice the game has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.

Sigy Says – Heretic Review

I was a big fan of Doom growing up in the 90’s, but I somehow missed out on all of the “Doom Clones.” I had a demo CD for the Mactintosh version of Star Wars: Dark Forces and I played a lot of Goldenye 007 on N64, but I never really played anything else like Doom.

One of the friends I made in middle school introduced me to Heretic and HeXen, but I couldn’t find copies for a reasonable price. Instead of borrowing or bootlegging the game, I decided to just wait until I had enough money in the future (which never seemed realistic at the time).

Flash forward to today and I’ve somehow managed to have Heretic on my Steam account for 5 years without playing it. I had forgotten about the QuakeCon pack from 2011 that included every iD title from that moment. Much to my surprise after having a Doom craze, I had some more Doom to explore.

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Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders (PC [Reviewed], Mac OS)
Developer: Raven Software
Publisher: id Software
Released: December 23, 1994 (March 31, 1996 for Shadow of the Serpent Riders expansion)
MSRP: $4.99

Calling Heretic a “Doom clone” is doing the game an injustice, but it certainly has a lot of game feel similar to Doom. Almost every weapon is a reskin from Doom 2 and most of the monsters share similar properties to enemies seen in Doom. The designs are incredibly different (and really diverse), but it’s hard to initially get out of your mind that Heretic is just Doom with a different coat of paint.

Eventually, you start to pick up on some of the changes that developer Raven Software has crammed into Heretic. For starters, this is the first FPS I can think of with an inventory system. It allows for the level of challenge to be ramped up since the player can constantly hold a source of health on them.

Not only that, but you can carry around various power-ups to use in sticky situations. Other shooters at the same time forced you to utilize anything you picked up then and there; Heretic puts more control into the players hand with the inventory system.

It is a bit annoying how you need to scroll through and additionally select an item before using it, but I’ll let that slide due to the release date (1994). That something so genre bending was even pulled off on the Doom engine is just awesome, let alone how chaotic it makes combat feel.

Each weapon has a different ammo type. It solves the mini issue Doom suffered with having the pistol and chaingun share ammo; getting the chain gun made the pistol redundant. In Heretic, every weapon feels valuable at any given time. Even the dinky starter mage staff can become awesome with the correct power-up.

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What isn’t so hot is how predictable the game becomes. At first, you’re not quite sure where to expect enemies to spawn from. Walking down corridors has walls dropping and enemies flying at you from all sides. By the time you reach the third episode, you’ve seen basically all of the tricks Heretic is ever going to throw at you.

That may have more to do with the original game only being 3 episodes, but episodes 4 and 5 really suffer from a lack of creativity. They are definitely difficult and well built (better than the rest of the game, even), but it feels dull after having played through 24 maps with similar layouts.

This is coupled with how the level design tends to have a lot of dead ends that require you to return to a centralized location. I’m guessing this was a precursor to the level design in the sequel, HeXen, where every map has a hub world. It does lend to some insanely confusing layouts, though.

The sound design is also pretty lackluster compared to Doom. On its own, the music is okay and the monsters sound like monsters, but nothing is distinct and most of the enemy sounds play at the same volume. It doesn’t feel as immersive as Doom, nor does it help the player distinguish which enemy is in an area with them.

The overuse of the first boss is also pretty lame. Maybe that is down to me playing on the second hardest difficulty, but I do wish there was more diversity in the boss encounters. Facing three of those floating giant skulls level after level becomes grating.

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With all of that said, I still found Heretic to be really enjoyable. It contains enough originality that any comparison to Doom sounds nitpicky. Sure, Doom may be an overall more polished and enjoyable game, but that doesn’t make anything done in Heretic not worth seeing. Heretic is also considerably harder, so Doom veterans will be in for a treat.

Getting the game running on modern operating systems is also a breeze. Since id Software released the Doom source code a long time ago, any modern Doom source port works with Heretic. You can boot up zDoom and get Heretic going in any manner of resolution you want. Full mouse look is enabled and keys can be rebinded to whatever your fancy is. There is even support for internet play, which is pretty damn awesome.

It also doesn’t hurt that the current price is exceptional. $5 for a game that will take around 6-8 hours to finish is just solid value. If you want to spring a bit more, you can get the rest of the series on Steam for $5 more. That includes Heretic, HeXen and HeXen II. That’s a lot of classic first-person shooter action for a small chunk of change.

However you slice it, Heretic is pretty good. There are definitely things that Raven Software could have done to distinguish it from the crowd, but for a first attempt from an unknown developer, you could do worse. For the price, you’d be hard pressed to find much worse, though.

7

Good

A solid game that definitely has an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.