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Battle Worlds: Kronos Review – Masters of War

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Successful games on Kickstarter seem only to have to follow one simple rule:  give the fans what they want.  Battle Worlds: Kronos does just that: a turn-based strategy game focused on troop movement, akin to old school classics Advance Wars and Battle Isle.  It’s not a game for everyone, though. Long-time fans of the genre looking for something a little more cerebral and sedate for their PS4 will love it; the kind of person who wants the ability to hold a controller in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. Anyone looking for action or instant gratification will probably not have a good time, and should move swiftly along to something else.

Most societies decide to have an election to see who leads a country, and I can assume that once we’ve done away with nations and become Earthworld, or Homeworld or Terra Prime or whatever, the same thing will probably happen, just on a larger scale. In Battle Worlds: Kronos, however, they prefer to sort it out with a bloody good war.  Thus, the various factions that make up the ruling class send troops off to Kronos to sort out who will become the next ruling faction. Focusing on the struggles of the house of Telit and Yerla Inc., the war is treated less like a tragic waste of human life and more like a cross between a game show and an election (pretty much exactly the same as any major political debate in the UK these days). Tonally, it sits somewhere between Command and Conquer and Frank Herbert’s Dune. Melodramatic, but strangely compelling. Sadly, the cutscenes aren’t live action and there are no giant worms.

The narrative is told via cutscenes, which bookend the game’s missions, and via in-game dialogue. Not only does it help with the world-building, but gives you helpful hints about the enemy and the best way to deal with them. Honestly, it’s not the most captivating of tales, being somewhat by the numbers, but I found myself enjoying it at points.  The main bulk of the game is made up of an extensive campaign, with the opening few missions slowly easing you into both the narrative and the ins-and-outs of the game’s different systems and, most importantly, basic troop types. It helps you to get to know their strengths, weaknesses and upgrades, and the best way to implement them in battle.

During your turn, each unit can carry out two actions. For basic types, this is simply moving or attacking. However, some must carry out certain actions, which means that some units are more adaptable while others are best utilized in certain situations.

Before you start playing, Battle World: Kronos warns you that it’s going to be hard. It isn’t kidding. It’s entirely possible to fail the tutorial missions and if you’re not careful, all your best laid plans can swiftly turn into a flaming pile of wreckage. The game demands that each action you perform be well-considered. The constant threat of defeat, though daunting, adds an extra element of drama and tension to battles, making your victories feel all the sweeter. When you get them, that is.  There are plenty of controller-tossing moments in store before that ever happens.

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Outside the main campaign, there are challenge maps to battle through (though the PC version’s multiplayer modes are conspicuous in their absence and something I hope gets added at a later date).  Each map, unsurprisingly, tasks you with completing certain set objectives and challenges. Though they’re nothing to write home about, the cranked-up difficulty will appeal to the truly masochistic.  In keeping with the distinctly old school feel of the game, Battle Worlds: Kronos’ visuals have a very distinct 1990s vibe. Despite using fully rendered 3D models, the game’s troops look like they would just as easily fit into C&C or KKND; unit designs all feel distinct, yet comfortably familiar.  The music of Battle Worlds: Kronos soundtrack is suitably grandiose, fitting the grand scale of battles (and it’s a good thing too, because a single mission can take several hours to complete).  It chugs along competently, but it’s not something you’ll find yourself humming on your way to work.

The thing that is most likely to turn people off Battle Worlds: Kronos, other than the crushing difficulty, is its incredibly slow pace. Missions can take hours to complete, and moving each unit can become an exercise in tedium–especially when you’re trying to scout the area. Looking for enemies across large maps can often take around a quarter of an hour to find even one, let alone engage them. Kronos is a very cerebral affair, one that requires a lot of patience. If things go awry, you can find yourself sitting there, defeated, feeling as if you’ve just wasted two hours of your life that you’re never going to get back.

Battle Worlds: Kronos is certainly not for everyone. You have to be a real die-hard fan of old-school strategy games, the kind of player that enjoys getting kicked in the bollocks by a lack of proper planning. However, if you don’t have fond memories of spending hours in Battle Isles, or just wish that Nintendo would make another Advance Wars already, I would proceed with caution.

Battle Worlds Kronos was reviewed on PS4 with a copy provided by the publisher.

Developer: KING Art Games | Publisher: Nordic Games |  Genre: Turn Based Strategy | Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One | PEGI/ESRB: 12+/E10+ | Release Date: November 4, 2013 (PC), April 26 (PS4, Xbox One)

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Review

Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average

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Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

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