Monthly Archives: November 2016

Infinifactory Review

This was the second review I wrote for Brash Games.  They have since removed my name and byline from the review.

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Start up Infinifactory for the first time and you’ll find yourself immediately abducted into an alien world populated with some of the majorly complex and difficult puzzles you’ll ever be forced to solve by a malevolent dictator. Infinifactory offers the dedicated solver a serious chance at digging deep into a mechanical world of conveyors, sensors, welders, and a variety of other devices necessary for making some of the most stupidly complex machines to appease your violent alien overlords. It’s a game that requires an open mind, a heart full of patience, and the temperament of someone stranded on a deserted island.

Like most “good” modern puzzle games, the instant Infinifactory is started you’re given no formal tutorial. You begin by walking down corridors, learning basic movement and block-placing mechanics while absorbing every inch of the dystopic scenery. You know you’re in some sort of spacecraft, and you know you’re not here because you chose to be.  Following that grim line of narrative, you notice a multitude of dead bodies strewn in outer space and some within the spacecraft itself.  It’s easy to see that this is not a friendly world…

But quickly, as is the case with many puzzle-centric games, you will likely realize that the freaky narrative of being abducted by aliens and forced to create crazy machines is little more than a safety blanket covering what would otherwise be a game without plot, characters, tone, or setting.  Infinifactory would indeed be the same excellent puzzle game, even if there weren’t the memorable spacescapes and alien overlords.

So foregoing the story elements for now, I find myself struggling to accurately formulate a complaint about this game.  I am no genius. I don’t exactly know how to tell an excellent puzzle game from a less-than-great puzzle game, but I do know that each puzzle I was matched up against in Infinifactory was a delightfully heady challenge to work through. Each problem seemed to have a very concrete direction in the sense that every puzzle has two requirements.

1.    Each puzzle builds of the last and you need to solve them sequentially to understand what you’re trying to do.

2.    The thing that worked for you in the previous puzzle will not work for you again. You need to deconstruct and build on what the game teaches you.

Each level provides you with a scenario that you are necessarily (assuming you don’t skip a level) familiar with. But despite your familiarity, there is always a layer of the unknown.  Each puzzle requires you to break the rules that you learned before in order to comply with the constraints of the current predicament.

This gives a player the sense of slowly becoming a master of what was previously seen as an unknowable pallette of little machines. This feeling arises in the form of an authentic sense of intelligence and ingenuity. This injection of self-confidence combined with the wide-open nature of the game, makes a person playing Infinifactory feel in control and free to address each problem as an intelligent individual. You’re not pandered to in the least. You’re limited only by the layout of each level’s terrain, your current inventory of machines, and your own ability to think through a problem. You’re reminded that YOU are smart enough to design something so complicated and purposeful so that each time you’re frozen with indecision at the beginning of another seemingly impossible challenge, you can’t help but remind yourself, “Well I solved the last one. I must to be able to solve this one.” And with time, effort, and information carried over from previous levels, it gets done.

And then another one gets done. And another. And another. Until you find yourself sitting on top of a mountain of knowledge that you couldn’t possibly begin to describe in words. With each new problem, your mind effortlessly cuts down on seemingly infinite possibilities, until you’re left with the most efficient and practical method of accomplishing the objective at hand. People have described this feeling as flow, but in Infinifactory, I would simply describe it as a player growing as a better and better designer. A better engineer. A better thinker. There is nothing more rewarding when it comes to problem-solving.

All that lovey-puzzly stuff said, the auxiliary story components are always nice little surprises. After completing one puzzle and moving onto the next, there is a real sense of reward when you get to listen to the voice recordings of all those who have failed where you might yet succeed. There’s also a sincerely sinister – and yet somehow hilarious – overtone to the entire game.  You’re making machines that create missiles, ship parts, and fuel, for the benefit of some quite obviously hostile beings, while being rewarded with goofy trophies and food pellets. I don’t think secondary rewards like this are necessary in a good puzzle game – and Infinifactory is a good puzzle game… But just like Portal would not have been the same without GLaDOS, Infinifactory wouldn’t quite feel the same without the recordings of the dead puzzle-solvers that came before you and your creepy-but-hilarious alien rulers.

So without really digging much deeper into the specifics of good puzzle games vs. bad puzzle games, I will put forward the opinion that Infinifactory is exceptional. It is robust with possibility, intensely complex yet refined, and painted with a decent amount of narrative, making the world in which the real puzzly meat is housed come alive.

N8

R8

8/8

follow n8 @UncleEggma

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Sombrero Review

This was the first review I wrote for Brash Games.  They have since removed my name and byline from the review.  The 6 blog posts following this one are of the same variety.

Hitch your trusty steed, order your whiskey neat, and lasso up your friends for a hectic hailstorm of brightly-colored dust and hip-fired bullets in Sombrero.  This 2-4 player spaghetti western party shooter offers just a few ways to play, but they’re chock-ful of over the top havoc for anyone out there with a need for another competitive multiplayer indie title to add to their collection. The game is most of what it sets out to be – it is fast, competitive, and chaotic. Though the game is enabled for online multiplayer and local multiplayer, saddling up on the couch with three other desperadoes is really the only way you’re going to get your game on, since it is a long-shot finding even one other person in an online game. This is, unfortunately, the sad truth for most lesser-known multiplayer indie titles, but certainly not a reason for losing interest entirely. Sombrero is exactly the kind of game you want to have on hand when you’ve got the controllers, the bodies, and the mind for some classic competitive shooting with a catchy western style.  The game comes with 4 game modes, 4 maps, several power-ups, and a host of wacky western (and not-so-western) characters to choose from.

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So after I gathered up 3 other cowboys and girls, we fired up some classic Deathmatch. We were quick to realize the simplicity of the game. Using the right thumb stick to shoot in any direction, we set out blasting haphazardly across the map in all directions, some of us aiming and some of us merely trying to avoid inevitable death. The power ups at our disposal included some western classics like tomahawks and TNT and some stranger weapons like the boomerang and exploding metal fist. With each of our deaths, the much-loved Wilhelm scream tolled, mocking your death and putting a snide smirk on the face of your killer.

In the next variant Loot, we ran around the map gathering bags of cash and lighting fires for point multipliers, while still chaotically avoiding the plethora of projectiles being hurled and fired.  Quickly, we realized that actually having an objective besides killing your friends more than they kill you made the game considerably more enjoyable. We moved next into the game type called Banditos, in which we were tasked with nabbing a golden idol and keeping it away from everyone else. Though we found this mode enabled some pretty cheesy camping strategies, due to the fairly over-powered upgrade the idol grants to its current owner. In the last mode, we had our biggest hoot. Capture the Flag was a great balance between the chaos of simply shooting at anything that moves and actually trying to do something. It got everyone out of their corners and running all across the map trying to capture and defend their flags. This mode seemed to lend itself best to strategic thinking and shooting, while making the most of the madhouse mayhem the game is all about.

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Like all party titles of this shooty, fighty, fast-paced nature, Sombrero is going to be a good time with any group of friends. With characters this goofy, an art design inspired heavily by a beloved genre, and gameplay that is smooth and quick, it’s hard to poke it full of holes. That being said, there are dozens of games out there in a similar vein.  With plenty of alternative options like Super Smash Brothers, Towerfall: Ascension, Screencheat, Duck Game, Move Or Die, and Nidhogg, it’s a tough life for a competitive couch multiplayer game like Sombrero. And it is especially true in this case because there’s nothing in particular that really makes Sombrero stick out besides it’s colorful and energetic western theme. There is no real gimmick that goes along with the art and music style, there’s nothing really that makes it play differently than other shooters of its type, the characters all function identically, and you might find yourself moving to another game after only a brief amount of time spent with it, simply because there’s only so many times you can play CTF or Deathmatch. Other more nitpicky problems include unpredictable and somewhat unfair spawn positions, a lack of anything truly unique in the four game modes, and just a general feeling of repetitiveness after playing 5 or 6 rounds.

The western theme is a good choice, but it would really kick the game up a notch if there were some mechanic inherent to the playstyle that somehow called back to classic tropes of the western genre. Perhaps the occasional shoot-out between two players alone, or just a wider range of weapon choices or game modes, or perhaps wider, more expansive plains-type maps. That being said, there is nothing about Sombrero itself that would make you call it a bad game. In a vacuum, you could easily get your money’s worth with a group of similarly-skilled friends. The characters are delightful, the maps are well-designed and mechanically different from one another, the weapons are goofy and offer a good deal of variety to the gameplay, and the game feels over all polished.

So to round-up all that’s been said, Sombrero: Spaghetti Western Mayhem is an excellent choice for any drifters out there looking for another party game to add to the ole’ collection. The game is a truly good time if you’ve got enough people and controllers for the local multiplayer and it feels like a well-made game. There are some issues with the saturated field the game was thrust into, there’s a lack of anything precisely unique in the mechanics and they relate to the exciting western theme, and there’s no one to play with online. The art style is bright and hectic and the gameplay is equally enjoyable and chaotic. So, in a few closing words Sombrero is not exactly ambitious, but still a blast with friends.

N8

R8

4/8

follow n8 @UncleEggma

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