Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Review Round-Up - March 2020

This month a one-man army took the fight to Hell's demonic forces
and came out of it with his game, DOOM Eternal, becoming SPC's Game of the Month
It's time for the Review Round-Up, where we check out the game review activity on SuperPhillip Central for the past month. Despite what the date says at the very top of this post, that's no joke--so let's get into things!

We begin with a recent game from Inti Creates. Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX was a brilliant but short 2D action platformer that boasted fast and frenetic gameplay, earning itself a B. We then checked out a pair of games featuring minions as the main characters--one a Paper Mario-style platforming RPG and the other an auto-running platformer. Both Underhero and Wunderling received a B for their unique interpretations of being an underling in their respective games and genres.

After that we reached the halfway point of the month with a trip to the world of Pokemon with Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX, a blast from the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS past. The game earned itself a B as well. Now, before you think there was a flat line of all "B" grades this past month, the puzzle game reminiscent of Monument Valley and Captain Toad--Mekorama--came by, being a modest success with a C+ grade.

Last but certainly not least, SuperPhillip Central concluded the month of March with a bang. DOOM Eternal was not just the final game reviewed for the month, but it was also SPC's highest scoring game as well, ripping and tearing its way (what else would a DOOM game do, after all?) to a B+.

Finally, a double dose of information: 1) links of excerpts from all games reviewed in March 2020, and 2) the link to the SPC Review Archive, where every review ever posted on the site makes its home in one nice and neat place!

Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) - B
Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX brings with it tremendously challenging, high octane, fast and fluid 2D action platforming that satisfies greatly. Though the short playtime and sometimes unfair boss battles will sour some, it's a case of action-packed quality over quantity here. Gunvolt Chronicles is at its best when you're running, gunning, dashing into foes, locking into them, and unloading everything Copen has into them--which is essentially every moment throughout the captivating three hour campaign.
Underhero (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) - B
Underhero falters with its platforming not being as precise as I would like, featuring some tedious backtracking too, and some battles being overly lengthy and repetitious affairs. However, those negatives are just drops in a bucket compared to the copious amounts of positives the game possesses. Between the often humorous and witty story, dialogue and characters, tremendously creative boss battles, and overly engaging battle system, Underhero is an overachiever in many senses of the word.
Wunderling (NSW, PC) - B
Wunderling is a stellar auto-runner with beautiful pixel art and a catchy soundtrack. The only stumbling point I see with potential purchasers is its $15 asking price, something I perceive as higher than the usual asking price for a game of its genre. That said, if you enjoy games with humor, levels that push you to master them and fully explore their secrets, and are intrigued by its novel approach to the auto runner genre of platformer, then Wunderling certainly earns a recommendation from me.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX (NSW) - B
...with all of the bells and whistles that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX has, it's ultimately a very repetitive game. The prospect of plodding around similarly designed dungeons, looking for staircases to make progress, all the while battling Pokemon after Pokemon, escaping said dungeon, and then starting the process all over again can be quite tedious for many--much more to actually do. However, while others might find Rescue Team DX and games of the Mystery Dungeon variety to be a slog, I found cultivating a powerful team of Pokemon, taking on the myriad post-game dungeons where the game really opens up freedom-wise, and recruiting as many Pokemon as possible all to be well worth the grind. Essentially, those that love the series will continue to find reasons to love it (like myself), and those that don't won't necessarily find anything in Rescue Team DX to change their minds--not even a fresh coat of paint, as it's the same basic game underneath the updated graphics, monotony and all. 
Mekorama (NSW) - C+
Mekorama doesn't have the same level of polish or as vivid a presentation as other games of its ilk. You won't be dazzled by its visuals or understated music, as the presentation is overall pretty sterile. What you will be with Mekorama is engaged with its ultimately well designed levels, be they focused on puzzles, platforming, precision, or a combination of the three. Mekorama is hardly a game that will make a lasting impression, but it's one that's a nice time-waster for the experience that it does deliver.
DOOM Eternal (PS4, XB1, PC) - B+
Despite doing so many things better than its predecessor, an occasionally unfair feeling of difficulty, a heavier and unwanted focus on plot, and a weaker multiplayer mode diminish DOOM Eternal as a better sequel. It's a disappointing sequel in this regard, but it's merely a mildly disappointing sequel at that. The combat is better than ever--offering more satisfying means to obliterate your enemies than ever before, the new dash mechanic adds a more engaging sense of mobility--something that I will greatly miss when I return to DOOM 2016, and the level design is as strong as ever. DOOM Eternal may not be a better game than its predecessor, but that's an almost impossible bar to leap over to begin with.
And now for something completely different to DOOM Eternal... the cute, lovable
world of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

DOOM Eternal (PS4, XB1, PC) Review

SPC concludes the month of March with a brand-new review for a very big game. It's one that was on my most anticipated games of 2020 list from the beginning of the year. It's DOOM Eternal, and the SPC review is finally here.

Heavy Metal Massacre

One of the big surprises of 2016 for me was the launch of DOOM and just how much I loved that game. It catapulted to near the top of my favorite FPS games, and everything from the brilliant flow and manic pace of combat to the labyrinthine levels that encouraged and rewarded exploration cemented that fact for me. Now, it's four years later, and DOOM 2016's sequel is finally here. DOOM Eternal has all the makings for a "rip"-roaring and "tear"-ibly good time, but some decisions along the way deny it from being a superior game to its 2016 older brother.

DOOM Eternal takes up where its 2016 predecessor left off with Hell's monsters having begun their invasion on Earth. The planet is ravaged with more than half of its population utterly obliterated, and there's but one legendary hero ready and able to rip and tear until the job of vanquishing Hell's demonic forces from Earth is done--the Doom Slayer. With a heavier focus on story and lore than DOOM 2016, I saw myself growing bored enough with the story enough to completely skip some of the cutscenes. After all, all of the various scenes, sequences, and codex moments were interrupting the flow of the gameplay to the point where I was getting annoyed so much that I used that inner aggression outward on Hell's demon horde. An unintended positive for a story that I couldn't have cared less about. It doesn't help that my memory of the majority of DOOM 2016's tale was diminished, as DOOM Eternal heavily references major story parts of its predecessor.

Regardless, similar to its predecessor, but more so this time around, DOOM Eternal demands a lot of the player, having them juggle multiple balls at once in combat in order to survive each and every intense, ultraviolent skirmish that they find themselves thrust into. You have a limited arsenal at the beginning of the game, but it's more than enough to dispatch the foes that you encounter at first. Plus, by the end of the 15-hour campaign you're practically drowning in means and methods to rip and tear your enemies, so it's good that the campaign steadily introduces new weapons and mechanics as it goes on.

Blood? Check. Gore? Got it. Hyper-violence? You know it! That's DOOM alright!
Think of DOOM Eternal's combat and systems as a layer cake. It begins with but one level of deliciousness, but then as the campaign goes on, the layers in the form of new weapons and abilities pile on, and they're done in such a way that you're not struggling to keep up. You're helped as well by numerous tutorial screens when new mechanics and weapons are introduced (and these can be turned off via the options menu). When the campaign has reached its final chapter, you have a scrumptious cake (or in this case, combat and systems) that are layered, refined, and definitely on the sweet side.

The variety of locales is much greater in DOOM Eternal than what was seen in its predecessor.
And you'll need to use every mean and method in your arsenal that you have because ammo is in scarce supply in DOOM Eternal. I mentioned the concept of juggling multiple balls, and that's really what you're doing. You need to keep your ammo supply up, so you need to occasionally tear through the riffraff with your chainsaw to have them drop ammo. You need to stay alive, so using the all-new Flame Belch to incinerate foes, casting them alight in a blazing fire, and attacking them so they give you precious armor is paramount. That's in addition to needing to keep your health in a satisfactory, safe state, so when a hell spawn is in a weakened state, flashing blue and then orange when you're in proximity, it's time to perform a Glory Kill, granting you even more precious health in the process.

The Doom Slayer presents his version of reconstructive surgery.
Constantly being on the move isn't just recommended in DOOM Eternal--it's required to stay alive. As one of the tutorial messages notes, "Stay in one place for too long, and you're dead." Sage words and smart advice. To survive the almost mosh pit-like ferocity and number of enemies you'll face at a given time, you need to keep moving, jumping, climbing, strafing, and switching between weapons and their two alternate methods of fire, pummeling demons with bullets to weaken them well enough to go in for that oh-so-cathartic-and-rewarding Glory Kill.

When you're not engaged in the death ballet that is DOOM Eternal's combat, you're doing lots and lots of platforming to break up the action. Plenty of times you'll find yourself scaling specially marked walls--but not so specially marked that they're too easy to pick out in the environment--and other times you'll be swinging off of horizontal bars and making precarious leaps over bottomless pits. Fortunately, falling down such a pit only results in a small decrease of health. A new dash move is introduced early on in the campaign, and this allows you to jut out with a sudden burst of speed either midair or on the ground. This move is great not only for gaining extra distance in midair to cross otherwise insurmountable chasms, but it's also used to smash open walls to find secret goodies.

With the platforming in DOOM Eternal, it's oftentimes best to look before you leap.
And like its predecessor, DOOM Eternal is packed with secrets, almost too many that I got overwhelmed at times. There are toys to collect, songs, cheat codes, extra lives--a new mechanic that brings you back to the battle when your health runs out in battle (notice I said "when" and not "if", as DOOM Eternal is quite the challenging game), Praetor tokens, crystals, Runes, among many others. Finding secrets is a lot of fun, and fortunately, you're helped by abilities you can unlock as well as an auto-map feature that shows the general area where secrets are hiding. It's just up to you to discover the way to reach them. This time around, DOOM Eternal shows golden question marks icons in-game to show where secrets are hiding as opposed to the unmarked locations from its 2016 predecessor.

Secrets in DOOM Eternal aren't just there to check the box of the necessary "collectibles to add content" in the game: they're included as unlockables for content as well as to boost your Doom Slayer's capabilities like never before. Praetor points that are found from statues can be spent to upgrade your suit's abilities, weapon points that are earned from completing combat scenarios both mandatory and optional (as well as super-hard, but super-awesome Slayer Gate scenarios) can be spent to unlock secondary and tertiary functions of weapons, and special crystals increase the Slayer's maximum health, armor, and ammo capabilities. Thus, there's a good reason to seek secrets out, besides them just being cleverly hidden and damn fun to find.

DOOM Eternal mixes up combat with exploration well enough, though it's obvious when you're going to enter a combat phase as opposed to an exploration one. After all, a giant arena-like area with power-ups, health, armor, and ammo scattered about is generally a good hint. For the most part, combat and exploring/platforming sections are separated from one another with some mild crossover.

Weapons can easily be switched between via a helpful weapon wheel, so you can quickly get back to blowing holes through Hell's forces without too many interruptions. Now, if only the same could be said about the story.
From my experience, DOOM Eternal is a more difficult game when compared to its predecessor. Some of this is a fair challenge, offering combat scenarios that demand all of the aforementioned juggling of the combat systems in place, but other times it just feels cheap. There are many fights that pit you against an onslaught of demons of multiple types that just easily overwhelm. Certain fights increase the speed and attack power of enemies via a buff totem. Instead of engaging in the enemy, you have to run and jump around like an idiot avoiding crazed demons all the while searching for a blasted totem to destroy before you have a fighting chance to take them on.

One level (a particularly annoying one, all things considered, might I add) featured a fight where enemies are buffed up, and I spent a good ten minutes, losing multiple lives, searching for a totem to destroy. It turns out that a new enemy type was summoning buffed creatures, and unlike every other new enemy encounter in the game, this one didn't have a tutorial message to tell me this. Frustrating design right there, as is whoever thought purple goo that prevents you from jumping was a properly place for gunfights was a lovely idea for this type of game.

Then, there are the boss fights which are heavy step down from DOOM 2016. They are great for testing your patience, but often they involve being bombarded with enemies while having to weaken the boss. The final duo of bosses tried my patience for how long the battle took because if you give too much attention to the boss, you'll be blindsided and obliterated by the enemies you're ignoring. This is a different kind of juggling act--having to battle a never-ending supply of demons while slowly depleting the health of a boss--sort of like rubbing your stomach and patting your head--except it's not a particularly entertaining or engaging one.

On the other side of the spectrum, I did find more to like than I previously thought I would about the added, all-new version of multiplayer, the asymmetric 2-versus-1 Battlemode that pits one super-powered, arsenal-heavy Doom Slayer against a duo of player-controlled demons. Currently, five demons are available to play as, including familiar favorites like the Mancubus and Revenant, as well as newcomers like the Arcvile and the devastating Marauder. In order to win a round, the Doom Slayer must defeat both demons before either can be revived. Battlemode arenas are generally taken directly from the campaign, offering some slight refurbishing for multiplayer purposes, but they're nothing particularly novel or memorable design-wise. Overall, matches are a blast, and finding out whether you prefer to play as the Doom Slayer or a demon--and which manner of demon--is part of the fun. Still, I wish the oft-forgotten but always enjoyable Deathmatch of DOOM 2016 had made its way to DOOM Eternal, as I do prefer that to what this game offers.

Battlemode is inspired, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the traditional "Deathmatch" from DOOM 2016.
Despite doing so many things better than its predecessor, an occasionally unfair feeling of difficulty, a heavier and unwanted focus on plot, and a weaker multiplayer mode diminish DOOM Eternal as a better sequel. It's a disappointing sequel in this regard, but it's merely a mildly disappointing sequel at that. The combat is better than ever--offering more satisfying means to obliterate your enemies than ever before, the new dash mechanic adds a more engaging sense of mobility--something that I will greatly miss when I return to DOOM 2016, and the level design is as strong as ever. DOOM Eternal may not be a better game than its predecessor, but that's an almost impossible bar to leap over to begin with.

[SPC Says: B+]