The FIA World Rally Championship is entering a new era with a new champion for the first time in 10 years, but the official game continues to feel like more of the same off-road action. Milestone has made some intelligent changes from last year’s game, but many of its more flaky mechanics remain untouched, and some good elements, including classic cars, have been removed entirely. The thrill of the perfect hairpin powerslide is still present, but WRC’s core content sorely lags behind its competitors.
Like previous WRC games, and indeed the majority of racing games based on an official series, WRC 4 places you in the shoes of an up-and-coming driver seeking to reach the pinnacle of his chosen discipline. You begin the game by naming your driver and co-driver and selecting a manager to guide you through your career. You shouldn’t spend too long choosing your manager, though, because you’re simply choosing from a selection of photos rather than making a decision that has any real influence on your career progress.
If you’ve played previous WRC games, starting yet another Career mode from the bottom of the ladder in the slow, understeering Junior WRC cars seems like a waste of time initially. Thankfully, Milestone has recognised this problem, making the initial seasons shorter to speed up your progress towards the actual World Rally Championship. Junior WRC has only two events, but the seasons become slightly longer as you progress through each support class, eventually reaching a full complement of 13 rallies in the WRC proper. If you’d rather race full seasons in all of the car classes, you can do so via the Rally mode outside of Career mode. The rest of Career mode feels old-fashioned, with slow first-person 3D menus and the usual setup of choosing team contracts and reading emails from your manager.
WRC leans more heavily towards simulation than Dirt, but it’s still accessible thanks to the typical suite of optional assists, such as braking.
Once you’re out in the mud and gravel, the handling feels very similar to last year’s game. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a rally game, with a heavy emphasis on maintaining momentum by sliding the car through tight corners. WRC leans more heavily towards simulation than Dirt, but it’s still accessible thanks to the typical suite of optional assists, such as braking. The biggest control differences from last year are noticeable only if you have a steering wheel. WRC 4’s wheel support is a significant improvement over wheel support in the previous installments, with full support for 900-degree wheels and H-pattern shifters, offering a much more authentic experience if you’re equipped to take advantage of it. If you’re a steering wheel user, this is a game that you absolutely should check out.
Other areas of the driving experience have not been updated in any meaningful way. The co-driver voice is exactly the same monotonous one that has been featured throughout the series, and the cars still don’t feel noticeably different in snow or rain. There’s definitely a little more oversteer in adverse weather conditions, but it’s nowhere near as much of a challenge as in some other racing games. Most of Milestone’s efforts have gone into improving the stages that host the rallies. All of the countries and special stages have undergone an extensive graphical overhaul. Every single object and surface has been retextured and altered to bring the series’ graphics up to date. There are more fans and trackside objects, creating a much better atmosphere and sense of place. The presentation still doesn’t match up to the high standards of other racing games, but it’s not quite as dated as before.
In particular, the lighting has improved dramatically, with different times of day looking significantly different, creating a variety of visibility challenges. The game also features cutscenes that use footage of the real WRC, while some spectacularly over-the-top orchestral music gives each event the feeling of a big occasion and does a surprisingly good job of pumping you up before the start of a stage.
As well as completely reworking the graphics for returning stages, Milestone has thrown out some of the less enjoyable road layouts from previous WRC games and replaced them with completely new configurations. These new routes are much narrower than before, creating a more authentic feeling of the danger faced by real rally drivers and the bravery and skill needed to overcome it. They are also much more challenging than before, but most of the new rallies are constantly winding one way and then the other, giving you very little opportunity to enjoy these powerful cars at high speed. There are plenty of routes where you never need to go above fourth gear in your six-speed gearbox. Thankfully, Rally Finland and other courses with a reputation for speed in real life are not quite so slow, so there is some respite to be had from the constant hairpins that dominate the rest of the game.
When you’re done competing against the clock in single-player (WRC 4 still doesn’t have AI cars on the stages at the same time as you), you can take your off-road antics online. WRC’s multiplayer offering has always been basic, and that continues here, with a simple lobby system for ranked and unranked matches, which can be single stages, a full rally, or a longer championship. Players race on the same stage, at the same time, without staggered starts, so you see ghosts on the course rather than having the opportunity to catch and pass cars which left the gate a few moments before you. The offline multiplayer is similarly basic and only features the returning hot-seat gameplay where you take it in turns to set times on a stage.
WRC 4 continues Milestone’s trend of satisfying but unremarkable rally games. Some key areas have clearly been worked on, but the core experience still lags behind Dirt when it comes to capturing the pure excitement of off-road racing, and Career mode is nothing that we haven’t seen dozens of times in other racing games. There simply isn’t enough originality. If you own a steering wheel, the handling has enough depth to provide some great entertainment, but the tweaked courses aren’t enough of a step forward for the franchise.
Batman has a long history of escaping from some of the deadliest, most elaborate traps a brilliant criminal mind can devise. In his bat-utility belt is a gadget to get him out of nearly any predicament. But in Batman: Arkham Origins, there’s one trap Batman can’t escape from: the trap of expectations. By now, there are two things that define action in the Arkham series: rhythmic, free-flow combat and stealthy predator rooms. Arkham Origins has those elements in spades. But it doles them out in a straightforward, predictable fashion that lacks the inspiration of the earlier Arkham games.
The most noteworthy difference between Arkham Origins and its predecessors is a significantly larger open world. But that larger world has little meaning when the things you’re doing in it are the same things the smaller world of the previous game accommodated perfectly well. Grappling up to rooftops and gliding through the air still feel great, but they don’t feel any better here just because you have more rooftops to leap from. And there are side quests that have you doing things like racing to and fro to disarm bombs set by Anarky, which is much like racing to answer Zsasz’s ringing phones in Arkham City.
Are you a bat enough dude to counter all of Deathstroke’s attacks?
The city is bigger just for the sake of being bigger, and while these side quests make interesting use of characters–Anarky’s willingness to go to any length to liberate the downtrodden from the oppression of the rich and powerful makes him a fascinating figure, for instance, and the game gives him his due–the things you’re doing are exactly the same as the things the previous game had you doing in its open world. Even the crimes in progress, events you can choose to respond to or ignore that come up on the police radio, aren’t a chance to protect hapless citizens of Gotham from criminal elements, but just to fight more groups of thugs, something you do plenty of anyway.
Free-flow combat is unchanged from earlier Arkham games, aside from the fact that there are a few new enemy types in the mix, most notably a martial artist who has an attack you need to counter twice rather than once. The animations are still excellent, and getting into a rhythm where you’re dishing out punishment while perfectly countering every enemy attack still feels good, but it also feels exactly the same as ever. At a certain point in the game, you acquire shock gloves that make your punches more powerful, but this doesn’t prevent punching dudes in the face from feeling routine.
Predator rooms are also what you’d expect them to be, no less and no more. Of course it’s still satisfying to sneak up on a goon and take him down silently, or to be perched on a gargoyle, waiting for a clueless criminal to walk right under you so you can do an inverted takedown. But it’s also starting to feel rote. By this point, the mechanics governing these systems have become apparent, the process of sneaking up on enemies or of countering attacks overly familiar. You and Batman and the game he’s in are all just going through the motions.
Batman’s true passion isn’t doling out justice. It’s ogling gadgets.
Arkham City built on Arkham Asylum by putting the mechanics in an exciting new context. Arkham Origins lifts them from City and puts them in the same context again, complete with all the same sorts of environmental problem-solving. You still toss grenades into water to form makeshift rafts (glue grenades here, not ice grenades!) and use the batclaw to pull yourself around. You still power up fuse boxes by guiding remote-controlled batarangs through fields of electricity. The occasional encounter with something fresh and exciting could have gone a long way toward making Origins’ reliance on these familiar mechanics welcoming. But because nearly everything you do is a straight, wholly unsurprising replication of something you do in the earlier Arkham games, welcome familiarity gives way to an inescapable feeling of predictability.
There is one new mechanic in Origins: a significantly overhauled case file system. As someone who has always been fascinated by the detective facet of Batman’s character, I had high hopes that this would make investigating crime scenes an involving process that would test my intellect. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. You scan evidence to reconstruct the events of a crime and have to scrub back and forth through the reconstruction to track down more evidence to scan. There’s some CSI: Gotham City entertainment value in watching the pieces of the reconstructed crime come together, but your role in the process is minimal.
In the absence of new elements, the tried-and-true free-flow combat and predator mechanics feel routine rather than inspired.
The one area in which Batman: Arkham Origins delivers occasional flashes of inspiration is in its story, which establishes where Batman’s adversarial relationships with the criminals who loom large in the Arkham games began, and how he forged an uneasy alliance with James Gordon, a good cop in a police force plagued by corruption. It dabbles in questions about whether Batman’s presence only ends up fueling the fires of criminal activity in Gotham, and in its best and most genuinely surprising moments, explores how Batman and the Joker are two sides of the same coin. As Batman, new voice actor Roger Craig Smith is a bit flat, but as the Joker, Troy Baker fills Mark Hamill’s clown shoes admirably.
Batman’s eventful Christmas Eve begins, however, with a less outlandish criminal. The organized crime lord Black Mask, tired of the pressure Batman has been putting on his operations for the past few years, puts a bounty on Batman’s head, calling eight world-class assassins to Gotham, including the muscle-bound Bane, the poisonous Copperhead, and the efficient Deathstroke. Boss fights with these and other characters have an elevated sense of drama because of the personalities involved, but mechanically, they aren’t much different from fights with other enemies. Defeating Deathstroke requires good countering. Against Bane, you use stuns and beatdowns. And so on.
The world of Arkham Origins is bigger, but in this case, that doesn’t translate to better.
Batman: Arkham Origins also includes a competitive multiplayer mode in which eight players are split into three teams: Bane’s thugs, Joker’s henchmen, and the dynamic duo. The Bane and Joker teams aim to eliminate each other, while Batman and Robin strive to take out enough criminals from either side to disrupt their operations. This unusual structure has potential; as a criminal, the need to be vigilant against heroes swooping out of the shadows while also trying to pick off opposing criminals should keep you on edge. But in practice, it all feels sloppy. Weapon accuracy is all over the place, and being able to sprint only a very short distance makes criminals feel weak and inept. Meanwhile, as the heroes, combat lacks the rhythm and impact that makes it empowering in single-player, and you go down so quickly to enemy attacks that you feel more like a Gotham City impostor than a real hero.
Batman: Arkham Origins is a deeply predictable game. It gives you exactly what you’d expect in another Arkham game, without doing anything to push the series forward. In the absence of new elements, the tried-and-true free-flow combat and predator mechanics feel routine rather than inspired. Origins is worth experiencing for the way it sets the stage for the events of the other Arkham games, but it also resides squarely in their shadows.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate should, in theory, be amazing. The recent pair of Batman games from Rocksteady Studios are the best featuring the caped crusader in years, if not decades, and mixing the constants of the Arkham games with a bit of Metroid-inspired design sounds like a winning formula. The prequel to Arkham Asylum, set after the console version of Arkham Origins, pits Batman against three familiar faces: Joker, the Penguin, and Black Mask. Each villain has taken control of a section of the Blackgate prison, amassing small armies along the way. Of course, only Batman can quell the uprising, but not without a little help from Catwoman, whose inside info is the key to identifying important locations within Blackgate. After the two penetrate the front lines, you’re off to the races, free to tackle the three sections of the prison in any order you wish.
Blackgate does have a lot in common with its older siblings, but everything is presented in 2.5D rather than full 3D. Despite the change in perspective, close-quarters combat remains fluid and simple; relentlessly attack enemies, and press the counter button when a warning icon flashes above their heads. It’s a straightforward dance that’s effortlessly strung together in a simple but satisfying way. You aren’t controlling every facet of the action, but you are performing complex combo attacks and acrobatic takedowns with ease. Occasionally, advanced enemies with weapons or increased defenses appear, and you may have to stun them with your cape or leap over them to attack from behind, but overt button prompts make it easy to keep things moving right along.
Solomon Grundy wants love, too!
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. One of the few problems with combat occurs when you’re dealing with a variety of enemy types. Quite often, fights take place on two planes, but you don’t have control over which plane you’re fighting on. Instead, Batman attacks the closest enemy regardless of whether the opponent is in the foreground or background. Following the simple attack and counter formula works well enough when against common enemies, but that which makes multi-plane combat easy, however, breaks any attempt at strategy when fighting complex enemies. Stunning one enemy, only to attack a different enemy on another plane by accident, for example, is an all-too-common occurrence.
As you might expect, you eventually encounter well-known villains from the Batman series, and these boss fights come in two flavors. Mid-boss encounters, such as Bronze Tiger and Solomon Grundy, largely stick to the pattern of counter and attack found in typical fights, but the three big bosses are puzzle oriented in nature. These somewhat complex scenarios typically have strict conditions for success and extreme punishments for failure. A single misstep against Black Mask or the Penguin leads to near-instant death. Tackling these puzzles requires a trial-and-error approach, which doesn’t work well with near-instant deathblows. Worst of all, you have to wait through an extended loading screen and start over a room or two before the boss fight. Until you know exactly what to do, it takes longer to get back into a boss fight than it does to fail.
When you aren’t fending off clowns and thugs, you spend the majority of your time exploring the prison depths in search of the villainous trio. A sprawling map, filled with hidden passages, dangerous obstacles, and encrypted security panels, represents each of the game’s three sections. Catwoman points you in the right direction, but once you’re inside, you have to rely on the map and Batman’s detective vision to find your way around. Entering detective mode by tapping the Vita’s touchscreen reveals an X-ray-like representation of your surroundings. Perches, enemies, and other common elements are highlighted to stand out, and you can analyze each object’s properties by touching them for a few seconds. It’s important to search the screen for hidden objects that weren’t immediately recognized in detective mode, and it’s the most common way to not only discover solutions to environmental puzzles, but also the locations of secret rooms and items.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer maps that don’t keep track of where I’ve been.
With mostly enjoyable combat and the discovery-driven model of exploration, Blackgate looks great on paper. However, the implementation of the latter feels rushed and chaotic, often leading to frustration with the level design, and most critically, the map. This is, for the most part, a side-scrolling experience, but you’re often driven into an air duct in the background, around a corner, or onto an elevator, deviating away from the typical side-on perspective. This shouldn’t be a problem, but thanks to the top-down map, and a constantly-shifting relationship with your surroundings, it is.
The map is, by far, the most frustrating element of Blackgate, because it fails to provide the kind helpful information you’d expect to find. In a multistory environment with complex webs of air ducts, grapnel points, and hidden rooms, a map that fails to indicate what floor you’re on is next to useless. Quite often, you’re told to go to a specific room, but even if it appears that you’re within the boundary of said room according to the map, you may in fact be floors and a complicated journey away. You may even need to come from an entirely different entrance to the building, but you won’t figure any of this out until you spend lots of time analyzing every inch of your environment, chasing trails that lead to dead ends, and eventually stumble upon a hidden path that doubles back to the goal, albeit a floor above where you started. Then, nine times out of 10, when you finally make it to the goal, you have to head to yet another far-away location to briefly interact with an object to restore power to a generator, disable a security device, or something similar.
Essentially, your journey is as follows: make your way from point A to point B, fight some enemies, head to point C to interact with an object, then return to point B to fight a boss. This pattern is common, and it’s also frustrating, due in no small part to weak pathfinding and an utterly confusing map.
Prepare to analyze everything in sight, constantly.
When you’ve grown tired of the typical mission, you have plenty of opportunities to seek out hidden objects, represented by a question mark on the map. Most of these are out of reach until you’ve acquired the proper tools: the batarang, line launcher, gel launcher, and batclaw. All of these tools are used to interact with objects and, with the exception of the line launcher, act as variations on the same principle: impact another object and apply some kind of force upon it. With the line launcher, you can create zip lines that allow you to fly across the environment, and even use it as a tightrope to reach areas overhead. Since Batman can’t jump, the line launcher and the starting grapnel gun are your only means of vertical movement.
The Metroid-inspired world design, where tools are the key to reaching certain areas, is a welcome element, but the rewards for your explorative efforts are deflating. Most of the time, the items you find are one component of a four- or five-part object. It’s a disappointing experience after struggling with the inadequate map and the need to endlessly analyze your environment. If you could analyze your environment while on the move, maybe the process wouldn’t feel like such a chore, but as it is, you have to stand still to scrutinize your surroundings. In all, you spend far too much time stopping and starting, when all you want to do is solve puzzles, fight, and grapnel your way through the world.
And this is the major conflict within Blackgate’s design. When you’re making forward progress, interacting with your environment, and occasionally fighting, it’s a simple but enjoyable gameplay experience, but once you’re forced to wrestle with the map while backtracking, and attempt to collect enough pieces to assemble a new batsuit, things start to fall apart, and Blackgate becomes a slow and frustrating slog. There is a New Game Plus option to explore after beating the game, in case you want to tackle the main villains in a different order, but there are too many frustrating elements to make that an attractive option. The first few hours of Blackgate provide an exciting glimpse of what might have been a great game, but it slowly falls apart, hour by hour, villain by villain.
In a genre where clones and knockoffs are the norm, Solstice Arena is a bright, refreshing beacon. In its entry into the multiplayer online battle arena foray, Zynga has created a fun and breezy game that has the same feel as Dota and League of Legends, but is played in brief 5- to 15-minute spurts rather than taking the better part of an hour. With the free-to-play “speed MOBA” Solstice Arena, the developer has proven it has the chops to compete with the big boys.
Solstice Arena puts you in a three-versus-three battle with the all-too-common final goal of destroying the enemy base. Each team’s guardian is guarded by three towers. But rather than forcing you to wait on heroes to grind by killing minions and siege towers alongside an army, the game abandons both the concept of in-match levels and minions altogether. Instead, gold is earned through pickup style power-ups and a single capturable chest in the middle of the map.
You must establish control of the center of the map to capture the chest through a sort of channeling mechanism that slowly turns the chest toward your side. That channel can be instantly interrupted by even a heavy sigh from the opponents, however. So each team of three dances precariously around the chest, waiting for the perfect moment to engage. Whether that engagement comes when the giant ogre leaps onto a defenseless mage or the steam-powered robot launches his arm to hook your assassin into the tower and nonchalantly throw him over his shoulder, rest assured the engagement will happen, and it will be over quickly.
Earth, moon, sun, void, and iron. While Captain Planet won’t be summoned by the combination of these, you have to find the perfect combination to maximize their potential.
Spells and abilities in Solstice Arena have only one casting resource: cooldowns. This means there’s no waiting around for your mana to recharge and no waiting to build enough fury to reach the optimal moment of attack. That moment is ready and waiting when all three of your abilities are off cooldown. The action is nearly constant, and in the 12 minutes it takes to play a match, it’s rare that standoffs take more than half a minute.
You can purchase items from the spawn platform to improve your character’s abilities. Rather than deciding which items from the whole arsenal you’d like as in other MOBAs, you’re given a choice of one head item, an accessory, an off-hand, a weapon, boots, and body armor, and you may carry only one of each. Most items grant you only two of the game’s five attributes, and each item has three base choices that can be upgraded into three final tier-three choices, each with a different passive enhancement that can greatly improve your character’s fighting potential. Bludgeons help you keep a target in place, robes improve the caster’s damage or healing, and belts help you wear the pants in the family by making you immune to certain crowd-control abilities.
The small map means constant action.
Earth, moon, sun, void, and iron. While Captain Planet won’t be summoned by the combination of these, you have to find the perfect combination to maximize their potential. Each attribute is tied to a stat such as attack damage, movement speed, cooldown reduction, attack speed, or defense. In addition to earning them through items, you also earn attributes that spawn as capturable power-ups around the map and smaller bonuses through instant pickups.
One of the primary innovations to speed the game up is that you don’t have to wait around for items and attributes to siege the enemy’s base. Towers are active only while a player is alive and away from his or her spawn point. If an entire enemy team is dead, or if they have retreated to heal, their towers simply won’t fight back. An early sweep of the enemy team results in a power play, guaranteeing some free time to begin pecking away at the tower’s defenses. As the game goes on and respawn times get longer, these power plays become much more dangerous, and a full team being aced at the wrong time could result in a quick defeat.
The game is limited at present by its meager hero pool. With only 20 heroes to choose from, and steep costs to unlock them, things become redundant in longer play sessions. You see many of the same faces and same groups of faces over and over across your games. Zynga somewhat offsets this by offering a fair helping of heroes in a free trial rotation, which refreshes every few days, but playing with or against players who have not unlocked a hero of their own means that what you see is all trial heroes, all the time.
The oracle won’t fight back if everyone is dead.
Fortunately, character designs are all quite different from one another, and each hero has a unique style. Whether that style involves playing from the back lines as a high-powered mage of the sun, or turning to stone and spinning through the ranks of your foes, or throwing down a music box to pacify your foes while you spin around healing your teammates, heroes have signature abilities, and there don’t yet appear to be redundancies among them. Each ability can be upgraded between games, as winning (or participating) earns experience for that hero. Each skill has three different paths that can be upgraded, but only two may be selected for the five additional skill points put into each skill. You can use these upgrades to suit your gameplay whims, whether that means making areas of effect larger, making stun durations longer, or just making skills pack a bigger wallop when you connect with an enemy.
While I have been exclusively playing the PC version released on Steam, it’s imperative to mention that this game is cross-platform with iOS and Mac. The three platforms are seamlessly integrated with one another, and at any given time your teammates or opponents could be playing on an iPad or iPhone while you sit at your computer with a mouse and keyboard. I was unable to discern in my play who was playing from what media, which speaks well of the cross-platform support. The mobile format suits the game’s short, burst play sessions to allow those on the go to be able to squeeze in a game or two in transit before returning to their PC, or simply sitting on their couch and continuing to play on the iPad.
While the lack of rage-filled hate speech is welcome, the ability to educate players is sorely missed.
There are a few expected features missing from Solstice Arena. Tooltips for abilities can only be read outside a game, so there is no way to refresh your memory mid-game on what exactly an ability does. Because some nuanced effects, such as bonus damage, amplified damage, or damage reduction, aren’t communicated clearly through visual effects, this can be problematic at times. Each hero also has a passive perk, which is unique to that hero. These can also be seen only at the character select screen, and are not visible anywhere in-game unless it grants a stat boost that is communicated in that player’s buff bar during a match. I didn’t know these perks existed until after several hours of playing.
Each skill can be customized to your taste.
Additionally, there is no in-game chat function. This means you needn’t worry about toxic players who berate, blame, and insult teammates who underperform. However, you’re unable to help out teammates who may be playing or building poorly. The only form of communication in the game is through a single ping every few seconds. You cannot tell your teammate, “Don’t hook the spinning guy into our team,” or say, “Hey, build Nullifying Belt,” when your opponents have stacked a roster full of silences. While the lack of rage-filled hate speech is welcome, the ability to educate players is sorely missed.
Players looking for a deep, rich experience will find themselves stuck in the shallow end of the pool. The short encounters and matches make for a lack of substantial depth in the game. However, with the upgradable abilities and the various perks on each tier-three item, there are more effective item builds depending upon the opponent’s composition, and playing the same way each time will not get the most efficient play out of your hero. Clever players are free to deviate from the recommended items in order to play their hero beyond its defined role, but with ability scaling tied directly to certain resources, there are some boxes you simply can’t think outside of.
Capture resources to power up.
Solstice Arena is explosive fun, and its short matches quickly entice you into the “just one more game” mentality so common in compelling multiplayer experiences. And though the game is great for the PC, each match’s brevity makes Solstice Arena a fantastic choice for gaming on the go. If you have an iOS device, get Solstice Arena. f you don’t have an iOS device, get Solstice Arena for your PC. It’s as simple as that. The 10 minutes you play at a time will quickly add up to hours you’ve invested into this delightfully fast MOBA experience.
In the dark age of the law, truth has no place within the confines of a courtroom. Reality is nothing more than an unreliable recollection of events by a flawed person. How can we trust memories that are tempered by emotions, undermined by biases, and torn apart by baseless assumptions? Truth and lies are much closer than people would want to believe, and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies explores the twisted path of the judicial system. When the end is the only thing that matters, the means you use to arrive at that point isn’t important. Or is it? The moral quagmire of the law is a difficult road to navigate and Dual Destinies weaves a clever analysis of this fascinating process.
Apollo Justice has sworn to protect those wrongly accused of heinous crimes, but an attorney has only so much power to right injustices. When one of his friends is accused of murdering another, his duty to seek justice goes much further than a mere courtroom could allow. Such dramatic events are interspersed with comedic jabs so you’re never burdened by these lofty themes. Cutting insults hurled at the buffoonish judge by prisoner-turned-lawyer Simon Blackquill inject levity within the heated debates, and spirited newcomer Athena Cykes displays an energetic naivete while she deconstructs the emotions of those who take the stand. Dual Destinies expertly balances two narrative extremes, using off-the-wall dialogue at key moments to keep the mood light even when the characters are grappling with their own limitations.
Meet Athena Cykes, a woman who turns her back on floating spaghetti.
Practicing law within the Phoenix Wright universe requires a cleverness better suited to authors of courtroom drama than to actual barristers. While scouring a crime scene, you may find a trinket seemingly unrelated to the facts of a murder, but you tuck it in your inventory without question, in case its importance becomes known during the court proceedings. Pretrial investigations push you from one disorderly scene to another, and you interview potential witnesses to slowly piece together what actually happened. Such activities are performed by rote because there’s little variance in what’s expected of you. A checklist chronicles exactly what you must accomplish before the next event is triggered, so although the occasional eureka moments stamp exclamation points onto your actions, you’re so rarely asked to think beyond the basics that you’re left going through the motions until court is in session.
Off-the-wall dialogue at key moments keeps the mood light even when the characters are grappling with their own limitations.
Apollo seeks justice no matter what the cost.
Verbal sparring within the courtroom rises above the pleasant predictability of the investigative process. Witnesses provide testimony tinged with contradictions, so you must scour your evidence to find the piece that proves they’re lying. Following the breadcrumb trails of lies to an ultimate truth gives weight to every objection you utter. Although the committed crimes are incredibly complex in how they were performed, there’s an underlying plausibility that makes it easy to accept the outcomes. From motivations to opportunities to the method for covering up his or her actions, the perpetrator’s thought process is eventually unraveled and displayed in detail. To succeed within the stressful back-and-forth swings is to discover the very essence of truth, and the game masterfully urges you onward to unearth the secrets that lie hidden deep below the surface.
Trust is often the only thing that keeps Phoenix Wright and his colleagues afloat when odds seem stacked against them. The bonds of friendship run so deep that even when every piece of evidence is screaming that the defendant’s hands are covered in red, the unwavering belief in his or her innocence keeps the attorneys pushing to explain how the crime actually transpired. And though such loyalty is admirable, it creates situations that border closely on the dangerous adage “the end justifies the means.” This phrase is uttered by those who have ushered in the dark age of the law, ignoring truth for the greater good, and though Phoenix strongly disagrees with that theory, he is forced to use creative means to avoid guilty verdicts. Concocting questionable alternate theories eventually brings Phoenix to the truth, but he tears down the wall separating fact from fiction to come to those conclusions.
The game masterfully urges you onward to unearth the secrets that lie hidden deep below the surface.
Because of the dance both the defense and prosecution must perform, Dual Destinies presents both sides of the coin in the the ongoing discussion about achieving justice while working within a flawed judicial system. As much as Phoenix’s team members deny the benefits of lying to further their goals, they are guilty of the same actions, so you understand why someone would twist facts for their own purpose. It’s fascinating to see these scenes play out. A witness may lie because he’s covering up his own despicable actions, trying to hide that he is really guilty of a murder most foul. But other times, lies surface only to protect a loved one. Would you testify if you knew your words could send your friend to prison? Dual Destinies shows just how scary the truth can be, so you sympathize with those who turn their backs on it.
Phoenix Wright is never wrong! Well, never is a strong word. Rarely?
There are times when someone changes reality to fit their own needs, but those aren’t the only lies that exist in Dual Destinies. Words are empty to Athena Cykes. As a trained psychoanalyst, she knows that people can say whatever rushes into their heads, but their emotions are unfiltered. When Athena discovers discord, she analyzes the emotions of whoever is on the witness stand to figure out what he or she refuses to say out loud. Why would someone be happy when a ceiling crumbles upon them? Or sad when they don a cloak adorned with shining constellations? This simple mechanic reverberates beyond the courtroom proceeding. I started to think about my own emotions that surface when I wish they would stay hidden. Even when lying would make my life so much easier, the truth still finds a way out, and I realized while calling out witnesses on their contradictory feelings just how pointless it is to hide from who you are.
Dual Destinies dives deep within the psyches of those involved in crimes–from the attorneys to the perpetrators and everyone else associated with the events–and such ruminations give you a better understanding of human motivations. The manner in which you investigate and argue is unchanged from previous iterations, and the exaggerated personalities of the characters hit the same notes as before, which does lessen the mysterious appeal of a courtroom drama. However, Dual Destines is more than just another retread. Themes of friendship and trust make you appreciate the depth of relationships, and the omnipresent question of the necessity of truth provides a compelling backdrop. Phoenix Wright’s return to the courtroom brings with it an impressive blend of comedic sensibilities and philosophical examinations that make you question how any judicial system can determine guilt when the relationships people have with the truth are so complicated.
In modern electronic music, the rhythm of dubstep–and most club music–typically moves at a brisk 140 beats per minute. Those who are familiar with the club scene would agree that when the music plays hot, the audience lets loose with an overwhelming urge to move and sway with the rhythm as if one entity. The feeling can be difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t been on the dance floor. 140 is a 2D platformer that attempts to re-create this coalesced consciousness without the overpriced ticket rates, sweatiness, and questionable substances. The game blends colorful, abstract visuals and an exciting soundtrack that invites you to solve 140’s secrets by tapping into the heart of the music and moving with the beat.
A pet project of programmer Jeppe Carlsen, who was lead gameplay designer of 2010’s Limbo, 140 takes some cues from Playdead’s macabre indie platformer. And like its cousin, the game unceremoniously drops you into a world fraught with deadly pitfalls and ensnaring lures. 140 provides a generous number of checkpoints throughout each of the game’s three stages, thus delivering an inherent sense of awareness and accomplishment through its deceptively deadly design. You guide the protagonist–a square that transforms into a ball when moving and a triangle when jumping–through a series of clever puzzles designed to be solved by using a blend of brainpower, spatial awareness, and precise muscle control.
Static is not your friend.
140 looks clean and simple, forgoing organic architecture in favor of sharp angles reminiscent of a bygone era. Colorful blocks dance to the hi-hats and bass drops that compose the energetic soundtrack. Though made up of simple shapes, the game is a spectacle of color, animation, and noise, which works harmoniously against a backdrop composed of bars rising and falling to the music, much like a graphic equalizer.
The soundtrack powers the platforming in 140. Blocks disappear and reappear, jump pads activate and launch you over obstacles or across a room, and lifts move around the environment, all in accordance to the beat. Some blocks slowly dissipate when touched, while others may form a snaking path that can either aid or hinder your progress. Advancement in a stage requires you to survive long enough to nab a “key,” disguised as a lazily floating orb. Acquiring the orb and guiding it to a clearly distinguished trigger point sparks an explosive aural and visual metamorphosis of the stage, allowing further progression with newly appeared platforms that stir to life with the music’s sudden change in pace.
Much like the dance floor full of sweating, swaying concertgoers, moving to the music while solving puzzles brings an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.
The soundtrack for 140 is more than just music; it is its heartbeat. Putting your finger on the game’s pulse is the most enjoyable way to play. Much like the dance floor full of sweating, swaying concertgoers, moving to the music while solving puzzles brings an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. There was more than one occasion when I felt my body moving in tune to the soundtrack, my fingers tapping at the keyboard while my head nodded along. Sadly, this sense of accomplishment is something not easily repeated. Once the puzzles are mastered, further visits don’t feel particularly rewarding, and while completing the game lets you access any one of the three stages in the menu, I didn’t feel compelled to give it a second run.
The platforming in 140 is superb. It wasn’t possible for me to escape the game unscathed, but most of my deaths were brought on by miscalculating a jump or being just a little too quick on the draw. There was never a moment when I blamed the game for my failings. During the first half hour, the game’s learning curve ramps up at a steady pace. This allows you to test the game’s boundaries and freely explore the environment. However, the game sharply increases its level of challenge in the second half, turning what was once a game about puzzle solving and rhythm into one of fast-killing traps that prefers quick reflexes over brainpower. It is not enough to ruin the entire experience, but the difficulty spike is too jarring.
Platforms and puzzles shift according to the music.
Each of the roughly 20-minute stages is capped with a boss battle against geometric shapes made of the antagonistic static that haunts 140’s many corridors. Breaking the familiar pacing of the game, the boss fights rely more on quick muscle movement than planning and execution. Each of the three battles brings a different challenge; one mimics bullet-hell shooters, while another flings triangles at you that destroy on impact. The final encounter is particularly tough, requiring mental gymnastics combined with fast reflexes, and completing the game unlocks three Dark World levels–basically the inverse of the originals, but with an additional challenge: you are given only one chance to complete the level. One slipup and it’s back to the menu screen.
Though the brutal rise in difficulty near the end mars the adventure, it doesn’t ruin the overall mood, and the cover charge is more than reasonable for this particular night at the club. Grab a colorful cocktail and head to the dance floor!
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