Connect with us

Preview

Multiplayer Mashup: Hands on With Ambitious Shooters Vanguard and Skyfront VR

Published

 on

Vanguard Skyfront

At EGX 2018, OnlySP had the opportunity to briefly explore outside of single-player gaming and try some multiplayer games. Vanguard, an ambitious space shooter, and Skyfront, an inventive VR experience, both had impressive showings; find Richard’s impressions on the titles below.

Vanguard

Vanguard is a unique and ambitious multiplatform title made by developer Dev Clever. Set in an alternate future where the Roman Empire continued to prosper, slaves must now compete for their freedom in large and deadly arena matches.

What makes the project stand out is the developer’s choice to make it available on both PC and mobile as well as creating a VR version of the game. Each version is optimised well, making the experience feel smooth across each platform without one feeling more viable than the other.

The gameplay itself has players take control of a spaceship in a futuristic gladiatorial arena. The game mode made available was a multiplayer Deathmatch where each player competed to earn the most kills within a given time period. Using a throttle and joystick controller, the controls on PC were slightly less responsive than when using the VR remote. However, the slow response time was due to the team members lowering the sensitivity after other participants had had a difficult time adjusting to the controls.

With the game being entirely in the first person, players can easily lose their orientation in the 3D space. To combat this, Vanguard features a rather handy head-up display, including a three-dimensional map that includes whether the enemies are above or below the player. Once the enemy is in sight, the ship comes equipped with plenty of gadgets to zone in and destroy any opponent. Each ship can utilise the two machine guns located on either side of the cockpit, while the guns have a limited amount of ammo; bullets will gradually replenish, meaning players will need to pick their targets wisely to avoid running out during the midst of a dogfight. To assist players not familiar with flying, the lock-on system in Vanguard gently guides the cursor over targets immediately within the player’s field of view. Once an enemy glides into the ship’s line of sight, they can also be targeted with heat-seeking missiles once in range.

Despite the short hands-on experience with the title, this form of creative and ingenuitive approach to designing a project could be a huge step forward for how future developers create a cross-platform experience.

Fans can follow the open development of the game by following the title’s Twitter page or by joining in on the official Discord channel.

Skyfront

Skyfront VR is an inventive arena shooter by Estonian developer Levity Play. The title is currently in early access and available for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality.

Levity Play is a small company made up of a dozen dedicated team members, with only two programmers. The developer has previously made other independent titles for mobile but decided to change to VR after one of the developers, with a particular affinity for arena shooters, had access to a Vive. The profit gained from previous titles allowed Levity Play to begin work on the ambitious project Skyfront with continued funding coming from the ability to purchase Early Access on Steam. Despite only being within its first year of early access, the title looks and feels like a polished game that will no doubt only improve over time.

The story behind Skyfront is surprisingly rich; taking place in the year 2700 AD, the world is finally at peace following a catastrophic war that lasted for four hundred years. To maintain the new world order, champions now compete in floating, zero gravity coliseums in a Hunger Games-like competition between nations. Though not currently in the game, Levity Play eventually wishes to add customisation for the players champion including character and weapon skins to personalise their experience.

The game has several maps for players to explore, showcasing the worldly nature of the game; three locations are currently available: Greece, a smaller and more confined space perfect for intense death-matches with colourful housing blocks surrounding a tall Parthenon column; Egypt, a similar but more vertically imposing area with gorgeous statues situated around a large pyramid, creating more opportunities to flee or sneak up on opponents; and a beautiful German villa, the largest of the three, ideal for larger game modes such as domination. Two more maps will soon be added to the game, including a space map where players navigate around a starship. The fifth and final map has so far has not been revealed but will no doubt be a unique addition to the already varied locals.

To navigate each of the environments, each champion comes equipped with two forms of transportation including a grapple to latch on to nearby walls and pull the player closer, as well as a thruster that can be equipped to either the left or right hand (or even both) for an added boost to speed. Simply aiming the thruster in the direction the player wishes to move and pulling the trigger will gently propel to champion; this method proved especially effective in avoiding the traditional motion sickness often associated with many VR games. The player remaining totally in control of which way the champion moves, whether that be vertically or horizontally, removes the temptation to physically move around the space and damage or trip over items in the player’s vicinity. Participants should be wary as the thruster also counts as a weapon, as boosting into enemies will cause a slight amount of damage. With the thruster needing to be equipped to move around, players will need to sacrifice using one of the other five weapons in the game, all of which vary greatly to suit different playstyles. Guns can be equipped to both the left and right hands, simultaneously allowing for some fun and interesting combinations of death and destruction. Cycling through each weapon feels simple and fluid with just a simple press of the VR controller. The game currently features magnum pistols, submachine guns, rocket launchers, a sniper, and shotguns; a sword was originally to be implemented but removed early on as the lack of impact from the blows felt strange and needed further work. The idea of melee combat is not strictly off the table but could be a long time before gamers see the tactic appear in-game.

As well as weapons, Skyfront will also feature abilities that can be equipped to either the right or left hand. These power-ups include stealth, shield, shockwave, jammer, and a health boost. During the demo at EGX, the abilities made available were the shield and shockwave. The shield creates a visible bubble around the player that absorbs incoming damage but was large enough so that an enemy could get close and still cause harm within the barrier. The shockwave, on the other hand, is purely offensive and capable of killing an enemy in one; the shockwave bursts out of the trigger hand in a wide but slow moving projectile. Each ability required several moments before recharging again to avoid any one person becoming overpowered.

In regards to post-launch content, Levity Play has set up several social media channels as well as a Discord site to encourage community feedback to help make changes and improvements in the future. Levity Play expressed interest in eventually releasing a PSVR version of the game but there are no current plans underway in creating the port. To help support the project, players can purchase the Early Access title on Steam as well as participate in the on-going community via Discord, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Preview

Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is a Baffling Combination of Journey and Dark Souls

Published

 on

Mixing genres is a fairly common practice in video games. For some titles, the combination works well, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer‘s rhythmic dungeon crawling or Double Cross‘s use of light detective work between 2D platforming sections. Others do not fare so well, such as the out-of-place stealth sections in the Zelda-like Beyond Good and Evil, or the infamous jack-of-all-trades, master of none that Spore turned out to be. Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, unfortunately, falls into the latter category. Trying to combine the floaty exploration of Journey with the brutal combat of Dark Souls, the resulting mixture is a frustrating mess that will not please fans of either game. The first title by French independent developer Redlock Studio, this Early Access game requires a lot of work before it reaches the compelling gameplay experience it is aiming for.

The game begins with the protagonist waking up in Limbo, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. A tiny creature named Yaak takes pity on the player, suggesting that maybe the king Hypnos can help. The problem, however, is that Hypnos is the titular Forgotten King—a godlike figure, who mysteriously disappeared after creating the world. In his absence, demons have taken over the realms. On a journey to reclaim their identity, the protagonist just might be able to save the world along the way to finding the forgotten king.

The frustration begins as soon as the player gains control of the protagonist. Movement in  Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is floaty and imprecise. This annoyance might be minor in a platformer, but the inclusion of the punishing combat of a Souls-like makes it beyond frustrating. Enemy encounters are dangerous in this style of game, with the need to dodge, parry, and circle around combatants to avoid death. However, the controls simply do not have the precision needed for the task. When the game requires frame-perfect timing to parry an enemy’s attack but features a character that moves like molasses, more often than not the player will take a hit. Apart from the initial listless humanoids of Limbo, enemies are much faster and stronger than the protagonist, quickly taking down an unprepared player. The balance is so uneven that the first boss, a hulking creature with an enormous greatsword, feels like a fairer fight than the rooms full of small enemies since his attacks are slower and more clearly telegraphed. Often, the better choice is just to run past the enemies all together.

Should the player manage to defeat some enemies, they will gain essence, which is used in levelling up. Levelling up can only be done in Limbo, often requiring a fair bit of backtracking. Players can improve their vitality, stamina, strength, or mystic, but no explanation is given on what those statistics actually do. Putting one point into strength will result in the character doing one point of extra damage, but since even the smallest enemies have hundreds of health points, a lot of level ups would be required before the player would see any real benefit. 

The platforming aspect of the game fares little better. The player is given no indication of where they have to go or what they have to do, just the general imperative of finding the king. The Frontier D’Imbolt, the first real level in the game, has plains spread out in all directions, encouraging exploration. However, the map is also full of instant death; lava, spiky plants, ledges to be avoided, and, of course, aggressive enemies, making exploration much less inviting. The floaty controls cause problems here, too, with over-shooting a target platform a constant issue. This annoyance could be resolved somewhat with giving the character a shadow to see where they will land. The viewpoint will also randomly change from 3D to 2D, with no real change in gameplay. The change seems to be purely for aesthetics, which does not seem reason enough for including annoying running-towards-the-camera gameplay.

Aesthetics, in general, is a strong point for Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, with interesting character design and a muted colour palette. The enemies have a cool ghostly appearance, all transparent with hard planes. The blockiness of the world has an appealing look but sometimes presents gameplay issues, with a lack of clarity on which blocks can be stood upon and which cannot. Music is a highlight throughout the experience, soft and atmospheric throughout the levels but clashing into something harsh and unfamiliar for the boss fights.

As an Early Access title, bugs are to be expected at this stage of development, and Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has plenty to offer. Despite being set to English, Yaak would occasionally slip into French, along with tooltips and the occasional item description. The English translation in general needs some more work, with quite a few typos and some weird wording, like ‘Strenght’ in the character status screen and ‘Slained’ when defeating the boss Hob. Enemies have buggy AI, sometimes freezing in place if the player wanders slightly too far away. Some instant death obstacles seem misplaced, with death spikes jutting out of a random wall. Most devastating was the game failing to acknowledge that the boss was defeated, with the gate he was guarding refusing to open. Perhaps defeating him again would make the gate work, but few players would be inclined to do so after a tough battle. 

Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has the potential to become an interesting game but is simply not fun to play in its current state. The incompatibility of Journey and Dark Souls is the core of the game’s problem: it needs to lean more heavily on one concept or the other—make the levels more peaceful playgrounds for exploration, or tighten up the combat experience to reach that satisfying balance of hard but fair. Trying to have both leaves the game in this strange middle ground where no one is satisfied.

For more on the best previews, reviews, and news from the world of single-player gaming, be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. Also, be sure to join the discussion in the community Discord server.

Continue Reading