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Jupiter & Mars Review — Just Keep Swimming

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Video games set in the deep-sea depths are nothing new. From the underwater levels of classic Super Mario Bros to the aquatic survival in Subnautica, the mystery and beauty of the ocean keeps inspiring developers. Tigertron has combined this fascination with a strong environmental message to create Jupiter & Mars.

Jupiter & Mars stars the eponymous dolphins living in the far future. Jupiter acts as the player-controlled character, while Mars is AI-controlled (though will respond to direct player commands). The mission of this pair is to explore the oceans of a future Earth that has been abandoned by humanity to return peace to the seas and foster harmonious aquatic life.

The details of what happened to Earth and humankind are left intentionally vague, but, as the player progresses, remnants of humanity linger—from the pollution scattered around, trapping friendly sea creatures, to dangerous technology causing problems for sea life, to entire cities swallowed beneath the rising seas. The environmental message is obvious, and, though it is certainly a relevant and timely one, this underpinning theme can feel brutally unsubtle at times.

The majority of gameplay is spent exploring the expansive ocean environments, using echolocation to find new areas or objects that Mars can be sent to retrieve or destroy. A pulse can also be used to deter dangerous jellyfish, as well as freeing trapped sea creatures.

Each area is large enough to provide a true sense of scale, with various collectables available to find, machines that need to be shut down, or underwater wildlife to be rescued. The environments themselves look very appealing, with the player-characters, along other sea life, sporting a vivid colour palette and neon patterns that diversify the game’s aesthetics. However, despite the beauty of the areas, they still feel quite empty. While the desolation could be indicative of pollution damage to wildlife, the uninhabited ocean feels more like a development oversight than a design choice.

VR considerably enhances the experience of playing Jupiter & Mars. When engaging using a PlayStation VR headset, the world feels less empty, since the world and the inhabitants feel closer, and the immediacy of VR helps.

Several control options are available in VR mode, a snap-turn or smooth-turn using the DualShock controller analogue stick or a smooth-turn controlled by tilting the headset from side to side. The head-tilt control is by far the most immersive, but some users may find it triggers motion sickness symptoms. The snap-turn option is likely better for those who experience simulation sickness from VR and has the added advantage of providing a tighter turning circle.

Where Jupiter & Mars really stands out is the soundtrack. The music is excellent, providing a smooth, calming addition to the aquatic world with some excellent chill-out electronica, which is reminiscent of the soundtrack from Ecco the Dolphin: Tides of Time on the SEGA Mega CD. Considering that developer Tigertron also created Child of Eden, another title praised for the quality of its music, this level of excellence is not surprising.

Comparisons to Ecco the Dolphin are hard to avoid, and, although Jupiter & Mars has captured the vast, mysterious loneliness of the ocean in a similar way to this classic title, the game has failed to recreate how immersive the Ecco the Dolphin games truly were. Perhaps these deficiencies exist because Mars is the one who performs most of the physical actions or stem from the missing sense of significant danger. Something seems to be severely lacking in Jupiter & Mars when compared to its spiritual predecessor.

The themes of Jupiter & Mars lean heavily on environmentalism, adding just a tinge of science fiction in its far-future setting while eschewing the overtly cyberpunk elements of Ecco the Dolphin. These aesthetic choices are, perhaps, to the game’s detriment, as the endless exploration and lack of imminent threat can make the entire journey feel somewhat boring.

Jupiter & Mars is a calming experience overall. In small doses, the title could be a great antidote to a stressful day, particularly if played in VR. However, the game’s short length and lack of threat makes it too dull for long-term or repeat play. The soundtrack is the project’s major stand-out element, and the OST album would be worth buying on its own—if and when it ever becomes available.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PlayStation VR.

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Review

American Fugitive Review — A Grand Tale of Theft and Auto

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American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 1

The original Grand Theft Auto rocked the virtual world with its violent gameplay from a birds-eye view perspective back in 1997. Once the series moved to a third-person, 3D perspective with Grand Theft Auto III, few gamers looked back and few developers attempted to replicate the original style. More than 20 years later, Fallen Tree Games has become of those few with American Fugitive.

Players control Will Riley, a man convicted for a crime he did not commit and filled with the desire for revenge. Once he has escaped from prison, Will must find old friends—and meet some new ones—to run errands and discover the person who killed his father.

The game is played from a top-down perspective in a 3D open world. More reminiscent of Chinatown Wars than the original Grand Theft Auto, the camera adds a level of complexity to American Fugitive, as players often will not see what lies beyond the edges of the screen. While a behind-the-character perspective would, at times, not go amiss, players will eventually grow to familiarise themselves with the camera, respecting the callback to classic open world titles.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 2

The open world itself is also reminiscent of classic titles, with simplified designs regularly complimented by the detailed art style. The game’s animated, cartoon design scheme is fitting of its fast-paced action gameplay, always managing to keep the player on their toes and keen to discover more. Technically, the game plays almost flawlessly, with no significant performance issues to disrupt the player while they explore the map.

Players can explore the rural open world of Redrock County on foot or in a vehicle. The vehicular gameplay may take some time for players to familiarise themselves with, with some overly slippery mechanics leading to some unfortunate collisions, though fitting to the game’s tone. Thankfully, most environments in the game are destructible, so sliding off the road—if the player follows the road to begin with—does not often lead to disaster.

Despite beginning the game as a seemingly innocent man, Will doubles down on his criminal actions once he escapes from prison. Akin to Grand Theft Auto, the player can hijack cars, kill civilians, and attract the attention of police. Most residential buildings in the game can be robbed by the player, often leading to tense confrontations with the homeowners or police, so players must continue at their own risk.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 3

The ‘wanted’ system in the game works similarly to Grand Theft Auto games, with players accumulating up to five stars depending on their behaviour. The stars often accumulate a little too quickly, however, with additional stars regularly added simply for evading police. Oftentimes, the player may possess a full wanted level—complete with large police vans and circling helicopters—within a minute of committing a minor offense. While this over-the-top gameplay design is fitting to the pace of the game, it may lead to frustrations within the main story missions by bringing the player’s progress to a halt.

The missions are also reminiscent of those in Grand Theft Auto, tasking the player with a wide variety of tasks to keep them busy while the story evolves. While many of these missions may seem disconnected to the main narrative structure, they are unique and regularly keep the player entertained, ranging from simple fetch quests and car robberies to full-scale shootouts. The game’s fast-paced gameplay and lack of loading screens also make the poorly-placed checkpoints bearable, especially when the beginning of missions require the player to drive to a certain location.

American Fugitive‘s storyline is simple in design but entertaining enough to keep the player engaged. The game’s ‘cutscenes’ exist in the form of text atop character designs; while some simple voice acting would elevate these scenes with more dramatic tension, they are short enough to maintain the player’s attention and continue the missions at a fast pace. Players will find themselves surprisingly engrossed in the story, wanting to see it through to its full conclusion.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 4

Accompanying the fast-paced gameplay and narrative is the game’s music. From slow, explorative themes to fast-paced tracks, American Fugitive‘s original score is reminiscent of some of the best soundtracks across different media—from television’s True Detective to video gaming’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Last of Us. Each song accompanies the gameplay nicely, ramping up and down as the player makes the appropriate actions, and, along with the expert sound design, add the auditory sprinkles atop a visual and narrative treat.

American Fugitive, simply put, is fun. Fallen Tree Games has added its own unique twist to a classic gameplay formula, and utilised a simple but engaging narrative and a beautiful original score to maintain the player’s interest until the very end. Despite a few minor flaws in gameplay, the game stands strong against its competition. Players looking for a fast, fun, and mature sandbox game should not miss American Fugitive.

OnlySP Review Score 4 Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.

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