About Gustavo Lazo

Twitter: @derekstruble

NYCC: Inside the Polaroid world of Life is Strange

Life_is_Strange_Max_concept_art

One of the more interesting titles made available at Square Enix’s press event during New York Comic Con came from Dontnod Entertainment, who developed Remember Me in 2013. Life Is Strange seems like part coming-of-age tale, part mystery, and part supernatural tale. It is the story of Max, a teenager who returns to her home town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, and takes part in a mystery involving a missing teenaged girl. Oh, and she can rewind time. Developed by a team of 40, Dontnod creative director Jean Maxime-Moris considers Life Is Strange a blend of “AAA” and “indie” gaming.

This was perhaps the most involved of the presentations at Square Enix’s NYC event, complete with a low-lit lounge setting with beanbag chairs and a wall of Polaroids. Moris and art director Michel Koch were available to give a sense of what Life Is Strange is about. After a trailer, Koch began the demo with Moris narrating, which introduced Max as a reserved individual. The core mechanic reminded me a bit of titles like Heavy Rain or even Telltale games, in which the player explores rooms and interacts with objects and people that affect one another with several possible outcomes.

The game has a rather youthful aesthetic. The characters on-screen have a slightly stylized look about them, just avoiding the uncanny valley–though they did not exactly look ‘finalized’ either. There is no user interface but when Max interacts with an object or a person the choices are presented in an animated, goofy kids’ chalk font. Even the saving/loading icon, a hand-drawn butterfly. As strange as it might sound, that kind of design choice helps us understand this is truly a teenager’s world and we are experiencing it.

Life_is_Strange_Chloe_gunMax and her closest friend Chloe catch up after Max has been away for some time. We get a sense of Max’s teenage awkwardness and shy, quiet attitude versus Chloe’s rebelliousness (complete with dyed hair, piercing, and toking on a joint) in a conversation. The rest of the demo focuses on Max looking for a tool set to fix Chloe’s broken Polaroid camera. As Moris helped give context to the narrative, he actually held up hand-created Polaroids of characters referenced by Max and Chloe and tossed them as the story progressed.

It is during the search for tools that the game presents its main draw: rewinding time. The first sequence of events prevented Max from accomplishing her goal, but rewinding the moment and setting things right allowed her to find the tool set. Later, a confrontation brewed between Chloe and her stepfather. At first, Koch failed to find a hiding place for Max, and then took the confrontation between the three characters to a dark place. Upon a rewind of the entire event, Max successfully hid, chose a different means for intervention, and the outcome less hostile. Judging by Max’s painful reaction to longer rewinds, it seems like there may be a limit to just how much you can turn the clock back and perhaps plays a role in the story as well.

Life Is Strange presents a world as regular as ours, which is why it stood out among the shooters and RPGs present. Some of the voice performances were honestly a little clumsy, which might be corrected in the final version (and hopefully so in a game this narrative-driven). However, you don’t often get games about high school kids unless they’re summoning demons and trying to hook up, so I can’t help but wonder where Life Is Strange will take players.

Remember Me, the studio’s last project, was not a hit with the masses, but it put forth a conversation about how the industry presents (and markets) female playable protagonists. At the closing segment of the presentation, Moris touched on that subject. “We’re not out to change the world,” he said. “We’re not trying to be different for the sake of being different… but [gender equality] is an important conversation to have,” he continued, “socially, and politically.” The episodic game will launch in 2015 for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

NYCC: Hands-on with Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris

laracrofttoo

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light provided the fun “couch co-op” kind of gaming that is slowly making its way in the rearview as online gaming continues as the norm. At an event in New York yesterday, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics allowed some time with their follow-up: Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris. It aims for the same kind of fun as its predecessor, harkening back to multiplayer arcade games like Gauntlet amidst a third-person, isometric camera view. It also interestingly keeps the same ‘adventure serial’ tone of previous Tomb Raider titles after the darker atmosphere of the 2013 reboot. The setting shifts from Central America to Egypt, and this time four players can join in on the fun from the previous game’s two, which makes for some chaotic fun.

The demo featured four playable characters: Lara Croft, her rival Carter Bell, the goddess Isis, and her son Horus, each with specific abilities that will assist (and possibly hurt) other players. The demo had us run through an Egyptian catacomb littered with traps and plenty of enemies that will require players to keep track of their characters’ on-screen location. Lara and Bell come equipped with pistols and firing on giant scarabs felt like playing a version of Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy. Pistols will never run out, but larger automatic weapons will.

lctooAmusingly, Isis and Horus can also run around the map firing a submachine gun. The four-player dynamic allows players to take advantage of one another to progress (which might be prudent to find red skulls). For example, Isis and Horus can create energy shields to protect Lara and Bell, or provide a platform to get to higher ground. Meanwhile, Lara and Bell can fire grappling hooks (provided a golden ring is nearby to latch onto) to climb or as a tightrope for Isis and Horus. Isis and Horus can fire beams from their staffs, while Lara and Bell light dark areas with torches. The representative also stressed that level design will accommodate the number of players in a session as well as feature weather and time-of-day customization.

The session also demonstrated the competitive (and griefing) aspects of Temple of Osiris. Though players will work together to overcome obstacles and take down enemies, the map is littered with areas to explore to collect gold for points as well as treasures that can assist the entire team or give an individual character a boost in skill. There are also moments will you’ll need a player’s help to traverse, say, a spiky pit, and hopefully your partner isn’t the type to retract the grappling hook!

After several moments of rolling under rotating spikes and outrunning collapsing platforms, players who have collected enough gold and silver will find themselves in a treasure room that will allow them to open a certain number of treasures depending on how much they collected. The demo ended from there with a cut-scene that showed off one of the game’s bosses.

The demo was overall easy to pick up and play, and allowed players to customize their needs on the fly. It doesn’t look like a massive visual bump from the last game, which released in 2010, but I quite enjoyed the environment design of that particular map. Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris will launch on December 9 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

NYCC: Final Fantasy Type-0 HD hands-on with a title revived for the new generation

Type-0NYCC

Final Fantasy Type-0 is probably one of the more fascinating entries in Square Enix’s RPG franchise if you live outside of Japan. For years, fans have requested the PlayStation Portable title be brought to the west, and Square Enix finally answered that call during this year’s E3. Say what you will about the direction of the franchise over the last few years, and where it’s heading with the most recent Final Fantasy XV trailer, but after a hands-on experience with a PlayStation 4 demo of Type-0 HD, it certainly comes off as the Final Fantasy people have been wanting.

The opening cut-scene suggests a wartime theme, and the demo opens up at the walls of a fortress. Not a lot could be said about the characters themselves in the demo, but they were three of a possible fourteen party members with different specialties and abilities. The very first thing I noticed the moment I had control was that this was a fast, fast game. Combat moved at such a rapid pace that it took me about two or three battles in its real-time combat system before I really had a feel for it. I noticed the game still went on even while accessing the menu, and with the fighting going on I couldn’t discover a way to adjust camera speed without putting my party in danger.

Reishiki06You can select through any character at a given moment with the directional pad, with their unique spell attacks assigned to a specific button. Your traditional elemental spells are accounted for, but I found myself enjoying the unconventional ones like throwing daggers, whip-blades, and playing cards. Although the combat is fast, flailing about like I initially did is not encouraged. Patience and timing are your friends, even against your common grunt who like to take pot-shots. After each enemy is down, the player can absorb their Phantoma, the game’s equivalent of souls, for a boost in MP.

My first real challenge didn’t start until I came across a locked door with a golem guarding it. Though the demo was set to automatically revive my characters upon a KO, I found myself down once or twice, a further lesson to focus and strategize. The fun didn’t really start until I unlocked the summoner ability, sacrificing my character to unleash a behemoth that could destroy foes in practically a single hit as well as easily destroy locks to new areas.

Having seen footage of the PSP version, the game has definitely has a improved look beyond a mere up-res. While the environments and characters didn’t look incredibly detailed, the entire aesthetic pushes Type-0 HD into ‘remake’ territory. I was also impressed that the camera followed the quick pacing of the action fairly well without stutter. It still left me feeling curious as to its absence on last-generation consoles or even the PlayStation Vita.

One of the more fascinating takeaways from my half-hour with the demo was that it embodies a darker tone than the last few Final Fantasy games we’ve gotten. Despite it being available for the last three years I do find myself curious about its narrative and its large playable cast. Hopefully it’s a satisfying package until we’re closer to FF15.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD will release on March 17, 2015, on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and will include a voucher for a downloadable demo of Final Fantasy XV, set to release at a later date.