DEX (PS Vita Port)

I really wanted to like DEX on the PS Vita. I’m a huge fan of the Deus Ex games and the PS Vita, so the idea of a solid 2D action-platformer-RPG inspired by Deus Ex released on PS Vita sounded like a dream come true! That was until-

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-I finally booted it up and started playing through the tutorial, which was-

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-more than a little hinting at some-

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-optimization issues.

You know, it’s a nice place to visit… whenever it isn’t a loading screen.

You see, DEX was made for PC first, and while it had a fairly warm reception when it came to home consoles, the Vita port is its first mobile outing. Which is really obvious, because it seems like the developers have no idea how to make a pixel art 2D game not have 5-10 second long loading screens at every turn on a handheld that can render Killzone: Mercenary without breaking a sweat.

Some changes I expected and some surprises I was happy to see, like the fact your view is way more zoomed out, and that actually works in DEX‘s favor, making the animations look silky smooth. You can also use the touch screen for the menus, have full audio control (so you can turn down the irritating sound effects while hacking in cyberspace), can scale the size of text, and can switch between “classic” and “casual” difficulty options. Additionally, players abroad will be happy to hear DEX supports over seven languages. These are all great to see, although it’d be nice if they offered a way to down down the flashing effects.

However, some design decisions are totally out of left field, like limiting each playthrough to a single manual save file. You seriously couldn’t afford the player even just three manual save slots per playthrough? It’s not exactly a short game, especially if you explore all the side quests, clocking in between 12 to 20 hours.

“An alternate save slot please! This is a game with stealth mechanics, so I’d like to feel like I can actually experiment with things!”

Other bizarre design decisions crop up as well. For instance, rather than binding roll to one of the triggers, you have to use the right stick to dodge, and hit the square button to punch. This means you have to rest your thumb across the stick (which is not comfortable) and try to keep it on both the square button and right stick whenever melee combat initiates. This is not convenient, and makes me wish DEX had proper control rebinding (something developers always seem to forget about when it comes to console and handheld ports, for some reason).

Then there’s the touchscreen functionality, or, lack of functionality I should say. Frequently, accessing the touchscreen would cause the game to bug out, continually re-enabling it over and over so I’d have to try and save the game, and then restart it just so I could keep playing. Which means I’d be waiting for the game to shutdown… restart and play the intro video… load the main menu… load where I was… and if I was going anywhere when I was last playing, then I’d have to wait again as I rounded a corner because apparently no one thought a mobile game should be quick and easy to play.

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Never use the buggering quick-select menu! Just access the regular menu on the left! You’ll thank me later!

I know it seems like I’m harping on this point, but DEX needed more time in quality assurance.  These bugs and design decisions drained any enthusiasm I had for the game within seconds of me trying to jump back in. It’s not for lack of quality to the game itself – based on what I have played, the gameplay mechanics, story, etc. are all quite intriguing. You can use melee or ranged combat, as well as negotiate or sneak around potential conflicts. There’s full voice acting as far as I’ve seen, and the musical score’s great. You even get tough moral choices where not everyone ends up happy. DEX is a full-fledged modern RPG in every sense of the word. A lot of love, time, and effort went into this title, and I love experiencing it…

…just not on my PS Vita.

When my game crashed upon me trying to enter a building, a mere hour into giving the port one last chance to impress me, I finally decided to bite the bullet and start installing my PC copy. I’ll happily be doing a full review of the game and its storyline on there, where I can leave these issues far behind. I hate having to do that, as this game should be a perfect fit for my favorite handheld, but they dropped the ball on this one.

This is a damn shame, because most of these issues should have been identified and fixed before release. I hope that developer Dreadlocks and the porting team at BadLand Games address these problems in future updates, because if they do, then PS Vita fans will have an awesome RPG to play. As it is though, playing DEX on PS Vita makes you a second class citizen, and none of us want to feel like we’re bending over for the megacorps of the 22nd century. (Editors note: If that’s your thing, we don’t judge… much.)

DEX was ported by BadLand Games and developed by Dreadlocks Ltd

Point of Sale: Steam, GOG.com, Humble, Indie Gala, PS4, Xbox One, PS Vita

$19.99 ($14.99 on GOG.com); Twelve to twenty hours of cyberpunk shenanigans… if you can actually stand the load times and your game being killed by the occasional door frame.

A review copy of DEX was supplied for the purpose of this review by the developer.

Elijah’s destiny lies down a different path, one of the damned and forgotten, which can be found on YouTube at Unabridged Gamer and on Tumblr at Inkblots and Madness. He would like to point out that he got through this review without making any hacking jokes, because he isn’t a script kiddie.


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Skyling Garden Defense

Skyling: Garden Defense left me conflicted over how I feel about it. I found myself growing stressed in my attempts to finish the game’s puzzles, but felt enamored by the cutesy style of the game. For example, Skyling Garden Defense starts each of its Pac-Man or Q*bert inspired levels with a short poem containing a rhyming hint about whatever new element of the puzzle is introduced. This is a game that clearly has a lot of love invested in it.

After this, the player will then walk into the labyrinth to plant a new garden. Flowers and greenery grow on contact as we progress through the mazes, trying to avoid enemies and making sure they don’t destroy the pieces of garden you’ve created. Unfortunately, some of the control decisions for Skyling stood in the way of my enjoyment of the game.

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Flip-flops are optional then?

I’ll admit that the game surprised me with a real-time movement system. I expected the game to be turn-based, with each of my moves being reflected by the monsters. Instead, the game did everything in real time, meaning standing still in the middle of a path will result in a game over once a monster reaches you. The problem with this pacing is that there isn’t really time to plan a route – especially when a monster changes their path to try to attack you. Another problem I ran into was that the movement controls are particularly annoying – running in a direction for a millisecond too long and you’ll find yourself sliding into the next block.

Despite my difficulties with the controls, I feel that the visuals of the game are very well designed. Each enemy looks unique and each has its own unique traits about them. This made it easier to plan out a path, assuming I knew the quirks of each the enemy. There’s also something super cute about the game’s art, as you turn a barren waste into a pretty garden.

In the interest of full disclosure – I have not put a ton of time into the game. Each time I’ve tried progressing, I’ve ended up rage quitting after only a few minutes of dealing with the sloppy controls. Fortunately, this is something the developer can fix. I truly hope they do, because I would love to see more that Skyling: Garden Defense has to offer.

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Sluggies – the solution to landfills everywhere!

A poem about Skyling: Garden Defense, in the style of those included in the game.

“With Cutesy Art yet Slidey Controls

Until movement is fixed

It’s not worth the toll”

headerSkyling: Garden Defense was developed by Mighty Studios, LLC

Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox One for $4.99

A review copy of Skyling: Garden Defense was supplied for the purpose of this review by the developer.

Sam has a passion for a number of things, including disability advocacy, Teddy Roosevelt, and the indie game community. You can often find him talking about World of Warcraft lore or whatever his latest indie game infatuation is. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @IndieSamAdonis

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DiRT Rally (VR)

Some games are just too damn hard.  You end up spending your life feeling sad that you bought them.  Sometimes that difficulty-curve is exactly why the game exists, and the developers are proud of that.  DiRT Rally is one of those games that is just too damn hard for the casual gaming crowd.  DiRT Rally is so hard, it even includes a warning that it is designed to be very hard.

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This is a game that’s so hard, the creators had to write a warning so that you knew that they meant for it to be this hard and wouldn’t tweet about it like a loser.

It’s well known that CodeMasters wanted to produce a game where the vehicle mechanics “felt real.” They even went so far as to hire professional racing drivers to help them play-test the dynamics of the game.  And, here is the thing – I’ve driven an original Mini Cooper way too fast on a dirt track, so I can tell you that with a decent steering wheel, the cars in DiRT “feel right”.

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One of these will totally change the game for you: from stupidly hard to reasonably difficult

That’s exact reason I didn’t buy DiRT Rally when it was launched: it was aimed at the Sim-driving crowd.  It was what they wanted – an ultra realistic, beautiful looking, difficult game that would reward their constant practice by shaving hundredths off their stage PB. (Don’t worry if you don’t understand that sentence – the kind of people who enjoy playing DiRT Rally will understand it perfectly).  And, I’m soooooo very much not one of those guys.

But, I take my work for IGT very seriously – so yesterday I went and bought a copy of DiRT Rally and the downloadable DLC that enables VR.  That’s right – I spent AU$47 on a game I don’t want to play to tell you what I think about it.  Then I spent another AU$19.45 on DLC to support a VR platform I’m in love with.

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Yes: I paid retail for a game. Yes, we are open to selling out.

I started off playing a few rounds of normal DiRT Rally while the DLC pack downloaded using a normal PS4 dual-shock controller – it played exactly as I remembered: jaw-dropping environments with gameplay that was way too hard for the average gamer, but just about right for a sim junky.  I dusted off my Logitech steering wheel, set it up and sat down, tried again, and suddenly I could drive the way I chose not to in real-life.

And, as I was there, driving in a way that would literally kill me, murder others, or send me to jail for years, I finally got it: I could see why you sim-lovers love this stuff.  Playing the game felt awesome – my lack of talent was on display for the world to see in these beautifully stylized replays.  But I was still just playing a video game.  A good video game that had earned my respect, but still a video game to be sure.

Then I fired up the PSVR helmet.

Wow. Just wow.

Suddenly I was there – in the car.  The immersion in this game is somehow deeper than DriveClub VR – this game simply feels more real.  I don’t know if it was the PlayStation Pro’s extra power or the intense modelling of the car physics – but whatever it was it felt right.

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I’m not sure about charging for a VR extension to your existing game. I guess the only thing that makes it tolerable is that this extends the entire game into VR and that probably took almost as much work as a remaster.

One of the more interesting choices CodeMasters made was to have your vision “tunnel” towards blackout if you’re involved in a serious accident.  I have been in serious car accidents and it does indeed feel like that (ignoring the almost immediate pain that follows that sensation, of course), and, what’s really clever about using this effect is that I didn’t feel any VR sickness at all.

In my debut IGT editorial, I outlined rules for developers in VR.  I said many many many things, and what’s interesting is that DiRT Rally is a really great example of many of those principles in practice. I can say, without a word of a lie, that DiRT Rally delivers on the promise of VR: it takes the player out of their every day drudgery and makes them a rally car driver.  The game transports you somewhere else (Editor’s Note: James was punished with an hour of Eagle Flight for that pun. Additional Note: Now he keeps cawing in response to editorial feedback…).

If you want to replace your every day frustrations with the every frustrations of a rally driver, buy this game immediately.  DiRT Rally is available in the PlayStation Store as a bundle with it’s VR Add-on, or if you already own the DiRT Rally, you can buy the add-on separately.

DiRT Rally VR was developed by CodeMasters

Point of Sale: PS4

The DLC VR Add-On is available from the PlayStation Store for $12.99 – or you can get the VR add-on bundled with the base game right now for $43.99 US ($69.99 when not on sale).  If you’re into ultra-realistic driving sims, have a PSVR you should race to buy this immediately. (Editor’s Note: James…)

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A review copy of DiRT Rally and DiRT Rally VR DLC was purchased by James Newburrie for review – the base game cost AU$47, the DLC cost AU$19.45.

James Newburrie is old enough to remember when playing video games involved hassling his parents for change and a lift to the arcade. He has owned consoles from every generation (when they were new), and his pile of shame (see: Backlog) is taller than him, and may possibly have grown sentient. He still isn’t sure about the analogue control stick.  These days, he is only really interested in VR games as they are the only reliable escape from his dull, comfortably middle-class corporate life.  James blogs at difficultnerd.com

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Vanquish: The Adventures of Lady Exton

For some reason there are a few genres that first time indie developers always seem to gravitate towards, be it because of budget, because of style or just for simplicity’s sake and the platformer genre is one of those that appear more often than not. Why? Well for a start, everybody and their mother pretty much knows what to expect when getting into a platformer – jump around, dodge a few baddies, collect a few shiny things and then reach an exit of sorts. It’s an incredibly simple layout to the point where anyone who’s ever touched a videogame can work out what to do from the first stage. Bearing that in mind, I decided to grab a random platformer off my Steam backlog for my first review.

With that flimsy excuse to review a platformer out of the way, let’s get started with Vanquish: The Adventures of Lady Exton, and sadly it’s just a total disappointment all-round. The storyline is incredibly basic to the point where it may as well not have been there (Lady Vanquish is kidnapped, Lady Vanquish breaks out and escapes while being chased. Fin) and the graphics are really on the basic side as well, with some rather stiff animation giving off the unfortunate impression that the titular Lady Vanquish has broken her arm in several places. The lack of polish and flair continues across every element of the game… which is a shame, because the actual colouring and artwork is pretty acceptable. With just a few extra graphical tweaks, it wouldn’t look so bad, but as it is, it’s just awkward and messy.

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The biggest problem however is the general gameplay. The controls, while being on the ordinary side, feel stiff and at times totally unresponsive to input, which makes the game a serious chore thanks to the game later chucking precise jumps and messy enemy/trap placements all over the place, making for tense, frantic moments that just feel frustrating and irritating (Side note: I tested this game across two different computers with different versions of Windows and with both Xbox One controller and keyboard control to make sure the control issues were not on my own end). The game throwing pithy comments at you upon every single death only serves to infuriate you further. Enemy placement doesn’t work well either, with baddies stopping and changing directions seemingly at random, which makes gauging and anticipating AI movement a confusing chore.

Damage taken from enemies also feels odd, with enemies alternating between doing next to no damage at all, making it easier to just soak up any attacks and move on rather than battle, to them suddenly killing in a single hit. Oh, regarding battles though – the game does hand you one main attack in the form of an umbrella gun. It sounds nice in theory, but actually is nigh-on-useless thanks to shots often failing to register hits properly. It doesn’t help also that the bullets happen to be slow as molasses, which once again leads to a feeling of frustration over the game providing what I like to call ‘fake difficulty’.

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Talking about fake difficulty, this also happens to extend into the very basics of the game itself. Just take a look at the above screenshot. Can you spot the platforms that fade away when you land on them? No? Neither did I. It’s the one just above the tree stump. Oh and the ones right after that also fade out after less than a second of standing on them. This is an issue that pops up time and time again where platforms or elements suddenly behave differently for no good reason, with no visual indicators, resulting in cheap death after cheap death.

It’s for all this and more that I cannot recommend Vanquish: The Adventures of Lady Exton at all. It just isn’t very fun, from the forgettable storyline, to the poor animation, to the unfair, unpolished, and buggy gameplay.

Vanquish: The Adventures of Lady Exton was developed by Runestone Studios

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Vanquish: The Adventures of Lady Exton is currently available on Steam and Google Play.

$9.99/£6.99; An hour and a half of this makes James go crazy.

 

A review copy of Vanquish: The Adventures of Lady Exton was bought through an Indie Gala games bundle (which has since concluded).
James B is a terrible horrible videogame hoarder to the point where if it wasn’t for digital distribution, he would be dead thanks to a game-box avalanche related accident. This horrible mass of games includes four farming simulators which is probably around four farming simulators too many.

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