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27 December, 2016

Renoir Review – Not So Elementary

An intriguing noir-inspired murder mystery riddled with difficult puzzles make this a hard case to solve.

How far would you be willing to go to solve your own murder? That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a question I had to keep asking myself to see if I was willing to push through some frustrating mechanics and puzzles in the noir-inspired Renoir to unravel the case. Though I enjoyed my time with Renoir, it is one of those games where patience truly is a virtue. And, at times, that is a virtue I did not possess.

Renoir is an interesting mash up of genres, which I’m still undecided whether it completely works. From a story perspective, Renoir runs in a similar vein to Murdered: Soul Suspect with police officer, James Renoir, investigating his own murder. It’s an interesting hook with a lot of potential and one that hasn’t been completely done to death (pun intended). 

As you might expect, the story element of Renoir searching for his murderer is heavily emphasised so you’d be forgiven for thinking this would be a narrative heavy, adventure driven game. But instead Renoir plays out as a 2.5D platformer. It’s an odd pairing of genres, with the emphasis taken off the narrative and instead put on solving a bunch of increasingly complex platforming puzzles.

I love engaging my brain to solve noodle scratchers as much as the next bloke but, boy, did I encounter some frustration in Renoir. The premise behind the puzzles is that Renoir has the ability to control other phantoms around him, and use them to solve environmental puzzles (such as avoiding sources of light and directing phantoms to operate platforms). In doing this, Renoir recollects his last living memories to search for clues that lead back to his murderer.

The difficult of these puzzles ratchets up quickly and, unfortunately, I found myself turning to video guides quicker than I had hoped. Instead of being engaged by a potentially captivating murder mystery, I was instead trawling through Youtube looking for help. Perhaps this says more about my (lack of?) puzzle solving abilities, but I was disappointed that the emphasis shifted from the story to solving environmental puzzles. It didn’t help that the controls were not always the most responsive, when many of the puzzles required a fine degree of precision.

Nonetheless, let me say this though – the game looks visually stunning. I have a warm and fuzzy soft spot for noir-inspired games, and Renoir fits the part beautifully. Gorgeous black and white scenes are occasionally punctuated with a dash of bright colour, like something ripped straight out of a Hollywood noir movie or graphic novel. In fact, Renoir gives off a Sin City vibe. Or if you’ve played Blues and Bullets or The Detail, then you know what sort of game you’re in for. Renoir captures that moody, jazz-esuqe atmosphere particularly well and is an absolute pleasure just to sit and drink in scene after scene.

For more information, you may wish to read our review of Blues and Bullets: Episode One and The Detail (Episode One and Episode Two).

Renoir will not be a game for everyone. Underneath some frustrating mechanics lies a game with a fascinating story and some genuinely challenging (yet rewarding) puzzles. Unfortunately, the the complexity of the puzzles and mechanics may be enough to turn some people away, especially those who would prefer to focus on the narrative. And that's a shame too, because the gripping story should be the selling point of this game rather than a bunch of difficult environmental puzzles.

Stephen Mitchell

22 December, 2016

République Targeting Nintendo Switch

Indie developer Camouflaj is keen to bring its episodic, dystopian stealth adventure to the Nintendo Switch.

One of our favourite ever indie games is République. Broken into five episodes, the first of which released on iOS devices in late 2013, it’s heavily inspired by the likes of BioShock and Metal Gear Solid. In fact, the developer’s founder, Ryan Payton, worked on the MGS series for some ten years – as well as Halo – and that blockbuster mentality transitions to the game. It was one of the first indies we can remember that tried to really push into that polished, full gaming experience that has now become standard.

The game stars a young girl called Hope, held against her will in a dystopian, totalitarian society called Metamorphosis. You play as yourself, an individual who has hacked into this society and managed to get in touch with Hope. She pleads for you to help her escape, and by viewing the world through security cameras you’re able to guide her past threats and around the maze-like facility. Finding clues, upgrading equipment, eavesdropping and slowly unravelling the mystery around this place also feature heavily. The game looks a treat, has innovative touch-centric controls, a deep lore with plenty to discover and just plain fun gameplay.

After its bow on iOS in 2013, République came to Android in 2014, PC and Mac in 2015 and, alongside the fifth and final episode, PS4 in early 2016 in both retail and downloadable forms. In a recent update to its Kickstarter backers, Camouflaj detailed its plans for the series in the future. This is what it had to say:

“Many of you have asked about Camouflaj’s next project and the future of the République franchise. We’re happy to report that our team of thirty-two are hard at work on numerous projects, including bringing République to additional platforms. It’s always been our vision to put the game in front of as many people as possible, which is why we’re continuing to grow the game’s already long list of supported platforms. Long term, we want to bring the game to the Chinese, Korean, Indian and Middle-Eastern markets.”

“We would also like to expand République to new browser-based platforms and, if NOA [Nintendo of America] supports the idea, the upcoming Nintendo Switch. Throughout all of that, we will continue updating the game on existing platforms, addressing bugs, and adding new features. As much as we’d love to make new episodes, though, we do not have any plans to do so.”

So as well as news that the company is working on a title not directly connected to the existing République experience, the reveal of a Switch release is very intriguing. Hopefully, these plans are rubber stamped by Nintendo. The touchscreen will fit naturally with the gameplay mechanics, that’s for certain.

To find out more, you’re in the right place, too. We had the world exclusive making of feature for République in our first issue of Grab It, which is also our free issue. If you want to know everything there is to know about the game’s origins and the company’s founder, you can read it on iPad here.

If you want to start playing it now, you can get going for free on iOS.

21 December, 2016

BrambleLash Announced as Xbox One Console Exclusive

This co-operative, four-player indie game from Byte Sprite Games is coming to Xbox One gamers in 2017.

There were over 70 Australian indie developers at this year’s PAX AUS, and as you can see from the articles running down the face of our blog, we liked a lot of them. One particular game to catch our attention was BrambleLash by Byte Sprite Games. A couch co-op game, it’s all about working together to chase down various grunts and bosses across a number of colourful landscapes… until it isn’t anymore.

The game allows, or even encourages, you to betray your fellow team member when the stakes are high for a shot at victory. The only way to chase down the enemies is to tether with your friends. This causes a line to appear between the two characters and by moving about the screen you can sweep this deadly line across enemy forces. If your partner is in trouble, or to quick leap them across the screen, you can also use the tether to yank them over a large distance. There are other little environment specific moves you can pull off, like wrapping your tether around a pole to increase your area of effect.

Two teams of two can occupy the play space at once, and every time we walked past the booth, a crowd was laughing at the on-screen antics as they cut through the enemy forces. However, the ability to switch team members allows you to betray your friend when you feel the time is right. Stabbing friends in the back is the hallmark of any great couch co-op game and on this, BrambleLash delivers.

BrambleLash is due in Q1 2017 and has been announced exclusively for the Xbox One on console, while also appearing on Steam for PC. We’ll provide more information as it arrives. For those of you who own a PS4, perhaps check out Symphony of the Machine, which is coming exclusively to that console also in early 2017.

20 December, 2016

Stirfire Studios Hints at Freedom Fall 2

Australian developer Stirfire Studios is best known for its vertical platformer Freedom Fall, and the studio isn't done with the world yet.

Stirfire Studios was one of the star attractions in the indie zone at PAX AUS this year, showing off its new VR game Symphony of the Machine. We got a chance to play the game, and also interview managing director Vee Pendergrast on her attitude to accessibility in gaming with VR. As part of that chat we touched on her first game, Freedom Fall. The colourful, humorous vertical platformer was one of our favourites on release. The game was like the anti-Mario. It began with the hero already getting to the top of the princess' tower and ready to rescue her... only to find out she was a bit touched in the head. The goal was therefore to escape from her clutches, getting down the tower as quick as possible. On the perilous journey, notes she wrote on the wall provided plenty of giggles. It's a style of play that has since been utilised by the mega hit Downwell.

Freedom Fall came out way back in 2014, so will there be a sequel? This is how the conversation went:

Freedom Fall was a favourite of ours; how has that game’s reception impacted the studio and what chance of a Freedom Fall 2 in the future?Freedom Fall was not a huge commercial success, but that is really what made the industry and media sit up at take notice of us and it did well critically. As we come from Western Australia, I think a few people were surprised to see a product like that come out at the time. But WA has since had a few more success stories. The quirky dark sense of humour that was a central theme of that game will be returning in future titles and we do want to explore the world of Freedom Fall a lot more. Lisa Rye, Freedom Fall’s creator, has done a lot of world-building in her spare time and there is a lot of material to work from. All of it makes you laugh and feel a bit worried at the same time.

You can play Freedom Fall now on iOS, PC, Xbox One and PS4.

18 December, 2016

Symphony of the Machine Announced for PSVR

Stirfire Studios' Symphony of the Machine was already revealed for the HTC Vive, but we can confirm the title is also heading to PS4 and the PlayStation VR.

Australian developer Stirfire Studios, who is best known for the great vertical platformer Freedom Fall, is working on a great puzzle game for virtual reality formats. In an apocalyptic world, you are given the opportunity to bring life back to the desolate landscape. You stand in a tower built by some ancient civilization, and by manipulating the beam of light that travels through its centre, you can solve puzzles to control the weather. The further you progress, the more items you unlock to help you guide the light into locations around the tower.

I played the game on an HTC Vive, and found it quite enjoyable. There is little hand-holding, which leads to a great sense of reward as you figure out how each item can alter the course of the beam, and the opportunities that opens up. Especially as you conceive of new combinations of items. Using the now standard point and press to transport technique for movement, I was impressed by how accurately you could interact with the world. Picking up items in each hand, and rotating them, feels incredibly natural. And while everything unfolds in a small, contained playing space, the variations I saw in the weather help spice things up.

After playing the game, I got chatting to managing director Vee Pendergrast, and the topic soon turned to her passion for accessibility in gaming. She sees VR as a big opportunity to expand what is possible, so I took the chance to interview her for further insights. During that interview, she confirmed that the game is also coming to PSVR, stating:

"The PSVR is certainly building up to be the most accessible device that meets our requirements from a price perspective. For the PSVR version, we adjusted the game for seated play, which is of course part of the Sony experience, but we were also very conscious about how this affected the movement and positioning available in-game."

A release date is set for Q1 2017, but we will keep you posted on an exact date.

18 December, 2016

Interview: Accessibility in VR with Stirfire Studios

Virtual reality can widen the accessibility of gaming up to a whole new audience, and Aussie developer Stirfire Studios is leading the way with Symphony of the Machine.

Hailing from Perth in Western Australia, Stirfire Studios (of Freedom Fall fame) made some waves at PAX AUS in 2016 with its game Symphony of the Machine. A puzzle game that tasks users with returning a barren landscape to thriving life by manipulating the weather, it's zen gaming at its best. (You can read our hands-on.) After playing the game, I got chatting to managing director Vee Pendergrast, and the topic soon turned to her passion for accessibility in gaming. She sees VR as a big opportunity to expand what is possible, so I took the chance to interview her for further insight into the future she sees for the hardware.

12 November, 2016

Siegecraft Commander - "Opens your eyes to how strategy gaming can unfold in VR"

It might not be what you think of when you're looking to try out VR, but Siegecraft Commander is proof strategy games just might be one of the coolest virtual solutions yet.

Virtual Reality feels right at home in first-person games, where you can walk and interact with hands that are carefully simulating your own movements. At least that's what I thought before I played Siegecraft Commander. I should start by mentioning that I love strategy games - the likes of Warcraft, Starcraft and Total War were staples of my gaming collection growing up. Couple that with city-builders and you've got a pretty great gaming afternoon.

Despite, this, strategy in virtual reality just hadn't occurred to me. Enter Australian developer Blowfish Studios.

10 November, 2016

My Son’s Hilarious VR Fail

The story you are about to read isn’t going to win any “father of the year” awards. But if I had caught it on video, I would be a millionaire already.

I’ve been testing a lot of PlayStation VR lately following its recent launch in October. One of the games I very much enjoy is Playroom VR, a collection of minigames done with a kid friendly aesthetic. One of these games is two player, and has the person in VR playing as a cat hiding behind a curtain. The other players, using a standard controller and watching the TV screen, play as mice hiding under a tin can trying to sneak around to capture cheese. If the cat sticks his head out of the curtain at the same time the mouse is moving, the cat wins.

Literally and figuratively, a game of cat and mouse.

10 November, 2016

Goblins of Elderstone - Classic City-Building is Back

Goblins of Elderstone is a charming, exciting stab at a classic city-building formula. Keep an eye on this one, it could be worth more than its weight in dwarven gold.

Strategy games are notoriously hard to show off at conventions like PAX. The event is loud and crowded, and for strategy games you often need time and concentration to really become invested in the experience. It's a problem that very few developers have been able to overcome. But for that reason, I'm glad that I was able to play Goblins of Elderstone, because the experience has stuck with me. I am really looking forward to seeing more out of this charming little city-builder.

Goblins of Elderstone is one of the more charming city-builders I've played in recent memory. It pairs a low-poly art style with vibrant colours and really cutesie character models to create something that is both adorable and a little unsettling.

09 November, 2016

Goat Punks Hands-On - "like competitive Donkey Kong, but with goats"

Four goats climb, one goat succeeds. In this multiplayer king-of-the-hill battleground, only the fleetest of foot can become the true mountain-goat king.

Goat Punks has to be one of the strangest party games I've played in recent memory. It's like competitive Donkey Kong, but with goats. I know that's an odd image, but stick with me, it'll all make sense.

Goat Punks is a splitscreen, competitive party game for four players. It has one simple goal: climb to the top of the mountain and stay there. It's the logical extreme of a "king-of-the-hill" game mode, boiled down to the bare essentials. And it works very well.

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