Review: Ember

N-Fusion’s nostalgic, gorgeous love letter to classic CRPGs hits most of its notes perfectly and is one of the nicest surprises this year in terms of value for the money and how well the team has pulled off much of what it intended. 

Ember-752x430 Platform: PC (also on iOS)
Developer: N-Fusion Interactive
Publisher: 505 Games
# of Players: 1
Release Date: 9/9/2016
MSRP: $9.99
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Official Site
Score: A (90%) BUY IT!

 

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Back in the earliest days, there was no sun and the world was dark. The heavens opened up and stars fell like beacons into the pitch black world, and they were known as “Embers”. Powerful and wise druids of a primordial race, “the Lightbringers,” roamed the land searching for this luminous matter. They performed a ritual of awakening to call the “Embers” out of their deep sleep. Suddenly the world became bright, and the veil of darkness was lifted. The Embers were the embodiment of magical flame, light, and life, but as word spread about the sheer power of the Embers, they came to be hunted and captured…and so the War for Ember began…

 

Given this site’s moniker I’m probably the last person who should be reviewing Ember, as I fell head over heels for the game after first seeing it just over two years ago at a 505 Games media event. Back then, it was an iOS exclusive and after spending time chatting with N-Fusion’s Jeff Birns and seeing the game in action, I was all set to drop my non-Apple stance and throw good money into taking the iPlunge. Fortunately, my brain started slapping itself in the face, which got me to ask if the game was coming to other platforms. Flash forward to the game hitting Steam first, followed by iOS a few days later and yours truly sinking a few dozen hours into the PC version, loving every nostalgic minute.

You play as a freshly revived Lightbringer, brought back to life after a lengthy period of interment in order to save a pretty troubled land called Domus from destruction. Yes, the game deliberately checks off a long list of CRPG tropes with slight amnesia, bantering siblings, a bad pirate gone good and others swirling through the plot. But this is exactly the sort of game that’s been made by a team who knows what it’s doing and it’s been done so well that everything’s more than acceptable once you get it. Or get over it, if you’re one of the wags who goes into every game expecting “innovation” from everything you touch. That said, the game works excellently as a casual to hardcore play because you get to control how easy to difficult your own experience will be.

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Review: VIRGINIA

A must for those who love cinematic game experiences, unique visuals and jigsaw-piecing together a compelling narrative that holds a few surprises and life-sized curve balls for its cast of characters. Short attention span types, those who think some/all games are “art” that require no commentary, and those who want everything explained at the finale need not apply, though.

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Platform: PC (also on PS4/Xbox One)
Developer: Variable State
Publisher: 505 Games
# of Players: 1
Release Date: 9/22/2016
MSRP: $9.99
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Official Site
Score: A- (90%) BUY IT!

 

 

Variable State’s first game, VIRGINIA, is more of a work of interactive fiction presented in the language of videogames, but it’s also an impressive debut that works brilliantly. The catch is, in hoping players “get” the tricky mix of disjointed narrative and timed exploration sequences, the developer has unintentionally created a game that’s too damned smart for much of today’s gamer audience that craves explanation and arbitrary rules of realism apply to everything they play who also refuse to open their minds to something different that’s actually worth playing and replaying.

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In a nutshell, the story is about an FBI agent sent on a missing child case with another agent who needs a close eye kept on as there’s an ongoing investigation into unorthodox methods being used. That both agents are female, minorities and have some usual human flaws seems to rankle a few skulls. But reversing the sexes of the agents wouldn’t make a dent in the plot, as anything presented could happen no matter the gender of the main character or agent under the magnifying glass. Continue reading

What The .dll? Or: Hot Ember Code Giveaway, Back On Track!

ember-riddle-me-thisOh. Brother. And so, it took me three days or so to figure out that the registry cleaning and other maintenance I did on the laptop and/or Microsoft’s fiddly ding-crack wizzle Windows 10 being an unhelpful junk pile of coding somehow removed the .dll file certain games use to start up. Guess which game in particular WOULD NOT RUN at all and made me think it missed its launch day? Yep. Sure, I popped onto Steam to finally find people playing and commenting away. But I figured my early build was having issues of some sort.

Well, that actually wasn’t the case… Continue reading

Ember: Waiting For My New Flame (And Yours) To Return…

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“Hey! There’s supposed to be an Ember review up already!”

Well, there would be, but the game isn’t back up Steam after getting carted away for some tweaking and having its release date shifted to sometime today. Amusingly enough, I got about five or six hours in over the last weekend and before the game’s temporary removal, but for some reason the game clock kept running. When I checked in at some point Monday to pop back into the game with my notes, it not only wasn’t running, I saw my time was a whopping 27 hours. Eek. I could have sworn I shut my laptop down a few times over the weekend, so I’ve no clue as to what happened.

Oh, look! The launch trailer!

Anyway, from what I’ve played so far… I say it’s a buy AND a bargain at $9.99 Or: YES, you should buy this if you’re an old school CRPG fan or a new fan who want a gorgeous game world to explore full of life and depth (as in the game world is lively and the books here are great little lore reads). My full review is going to be up once the game is back up and I sink some more time into it. I kind of left things at a crucial moment and I hope my save files are intact. Back in a bit. I had Eventbrite plans for today, but just tossed them out a window here. Hey, it takes a lot to get me to pass up free alcohol. This game’s one of those things.

Back in a bit. Funny, it’s Free Stuff Friday, too. I have two Ember codes here to give out, but not until the game goes live. Drop a VERY short note in the comments if you’re interested, and I’ll pick two of you later today. Er, once the game is back up. Yes, you need a STEAM account if you don’t have one yet.

Remember EMBER? PC, 7th September!

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Wow. For a while, I thought N-Fusion Interactive’s gorgeous looking mobile RPG EMBER was dead and buried. Snuffed out like a campfire. Ash, even. Well, my flame has been rekindled into a super-hot sun thanks to that day-making email from 505 Games telling me the game is not only arriving after such a long wait, it’s coming to PC via Steam on September 7 for a mere $9.99. Wow. SOLD. This trailer dropped today – let’s take a look:

SOLD. Here’s a handy screenshot gallery to eyeball as well:


N-Fusion’s lovely proprietary engine makes for a beautiful game, doesn’t it? Yes, there’s a review coming on launch day, so stay tuned… and YES, go wishlist this one and keep an eyeball peeled for when it pops up for purchase.

 

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VIRGINIA Is For Lovers (Of Offbeat Interactive Adventure Games)

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Virginia is a first person interactive drama. It is the story of a recently graduated FBI agent and her partner as they seek to uncover the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a young boy.

 

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Coming September 22 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One from developer Variable State and publisher 505 Games, VIRGINIA is a visually stylized, dialog-free modern noir mystery/adventure game that pays homage to surreal entertainment such as Twin Peaks, The X-Files, and Fargo. There’s a great PC demo available now on Steam that leaves more questions swirling in the brain than it gives answers about what’s in store for players, but this is a good thing.

All I can say is it has something to do with a missing teenager, dreamlike transitions from place to place, a possible relationship between the two FBI agents working on the case together, and oh, yeah… a buffalo that pops up at the weirdest moments. Yeah. But it somehow works exceptionally well enough that I’d bet non-gaming mystery fans will want to sit next to someone playing as play brainiac buddy as things unfold.

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Okay, I’ll let you in on more precise details below the jump – I don’t want the suspense to kill you that much… Continue reading

Review: ABZÛ

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Platform: PC (Steam) / Playstation 4 (PSN)

Developer: Giant Squid Studios

Publisher: 505 Games

# of Players: 1

MSRP: $19.99

ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

Official Site

ABZU logoWith so many indie games flooding the market these days worth checking out, a few of them have either dropped off my radar, are already on it but not out yet, or never landed there in the first place because keeping track of them all is a Herculean task with me as Sisyphus filling in for the duration. Giant Squid’s absolutely stunning ABZÛ fell into the first category partially thanks to me seeing who was behind it last year and thinking “Eh, it’s in good hands, so it doesn’t need me pushing it at all.”

Amusingly enough, that intentional ignorance worked out in my favor when I finally got to play the game last week when 505 Games bought it to NYC. I went in with no expectations other than thinking I’d get maybe an hour’s playtime in and enough impressions to write up a dandy hands-on post. A few hours later, I had to *force* myself to stop playing the game and make a graceful exit with my head filled with too many gorgeous images and a desire to see what the final two levels I’d left untouched held in store. Echoes of that Ecco the Dolphin on the Dreamcast and the underappreciated PS1 and PS3 Aquanaut’s Holiday games floated in my brain all the way back home, lasting until I got an email with review codes. Then, it was time to take a trip back under the sea and dream out loud again.

 

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An incredibly beautiful, masterfully crafted and about as great as it gets game experience, ABZÛ soars to some impressive visual and aural heights as it takes you to deep places you’d never thought you’d go outside watching a nature program. You can call it a “spiritual successor” to thatgamecompany’s Journey if you like, but the single player focus and grander sense of scale makes this even more personal. This ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the “See”‘ has to me, a more grounded and pure emotional impact because of its blend of realism and fantastic elements grab you right from the start as the game takes you on a thrilling yet paradoxically mostly relaxing ride that changes in tone a few times before it ends.

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As with Journey, it’s also a game that’s just great to watch someone play. Controls are simple, fluid and intuitive enough for anyone that can hold a controller (or use a keyboard and mouse on PC) can hop in and fully enjoy the entire game from start to finish. The replay value is also more than there as this is one of those games where you can hop into a map and actually have your character meditate serenely as assorted sea life does its circle of life thing all around you.

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Portal Knights Goes BIG So You Can Go Home

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…and stay inside playing a lot longer. 505 Games and developer Keen Games have announced a huge new update to their popular family friendly crafting/action/RPG, Portal Knights that includes many requested features such as voice and text chat for online play, remappable controls, and a ton of tweaks and fixes. The new larger islands make the overall game world even more fun to run around in, and my logging in to check out the changes also revealed the game’s visuals have gotten nicely upgraded as well. 

Check out the new trailer and screenshot slideshow below.


 


 

-GW

PC Review: ADR1FT

ADR1FT Screenshot 01Platform: PC

Developer: three one zero LLC

Publisher: 505 Games

# of Players: 1

MSRP: $19.99

ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Official Site

Score: A (90%)
If you’re one who normally plays games on a smaller screen laptop or monitor, ADR1FT is most likely going to make you want a bigger screen as soon as possible. Of course, I’m saying this as someone whose first introduction to the experience was back when it was running on another engine and 505 Games premiered an early console and PC VR demo in a movie theater where on the big screen the scope was quite impressive indeed. That scale is far more thrilling with the complete overhaul/upgrade to the Unreal 4 Engine, but it works best on the biggest display you can get even if it means popping over to a friend’s place to show off the finished product.

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Forget the “walking simulator” labels the game is getting from the limited vocabulary crowd, throw out your science degrees or overly critical eye for complete accuracy (it’s a videogame, NOT a NASA sim), strap yourself in and prepare for a quietly wild ride. ADR1FT is less of a straight adventure game and more of a deliberately paced and tension filled trip into space where survival is key if only to discover how it all ends. The game works as both a visual treat for the eyes as well as a great example of the promise of virtual reality as a viable entertainment option (provided you currently own or plan to buy one of the VR headsets being hard marketed this year).

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ADR1FT Floats Onto Steam – VR, Consoles to Follow

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“Here am I floating round my tin can. Far above the Moon. Planet Earth is blue. And there’s nothing I can do…”

 

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While PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and VR-enabled PC and PS4 versions of threeonezero’s ADR1FT are still in the works, PC gamers with Steam accounts and rigs with decent specs can now purchase the game for $19.99. Even without the added virtual reality functionality 505 Games has a hit here that should go along way in convincing even the most ardent skeptic about the viability of VR for certain gaming and entertainment purposes.

Of course, getting past the new breed of hard-core internet skeptics who dub these sort of first-person experiences “walking simulators” (Bleh. There’s no “walking” here, as you play an astronaut stranded on a partially destroyed space station who needs to figure out what happened) will be the game’s biggest hurdle with the second issue for some being the estimated 4-6 hours it takes to complete the game. Length really isn’t something to whine about here as the game has enough elements to make it replayable as well as a conversation piece to show off for the outstanding Unreal 4-powered visuals.

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And if you really want to show off something even more physical, you can boogie on over to iam8bit.com to check out their cool online shop and snag one of those cool ADR1FT Collector’s Edition boxes for $54.95. That price nets you two digital codes for the game (PC and Oculus Rift VR versions), one of two different 756 piece jigsaw puzzles, a nice embroidered HAN-1V patch and a pack of “tasty” astronaut ice cream, all in a big box for safekeeping (but probably not guaranteed to survive being sent into actual space).