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Necropolis Review – Light Souls

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Let’s get it right out of the way: Necropolis wouldn’t exist without the Souls series. This is not to imply it’s a rip-off, because it most certainly is not. Nor is it an homage. At most, it gets close to being a parody of the revered series, and in it’s worst moments, it becomes a cynical exercise in ticking Souls-like boxes without having a real understanding the mechanics and intricacies of its obvious inspiration.

The player starts out as a slim, stylized hooded figure with nothing but a sword, a shield, and a few rations, immediately thrown into the titular Necropolis, a dungeon that randomly generates after each death. As soon as the player takes the first few steps, he or she is taunted by a shadowy figure soon revealed to be a giant floating pyramid head–a permanent (text-based) voice in your ear that multitasks as quest-giver, experience dispenser, and comic relief.

Growth in Necropolis is both loot-based and generational. The player can equip loot found along the way or bought from the odd vendor with acquired gems. This equipment can translate into boosts to attack and defend, and even some special attacks. Consumables are also available to find and craft, and bring a variety of buffs and effects to the table.

Completed quests and repeated attempts at conquering the dungeon will see each death rewarding the player with Tokens of Favor, a currency that can be spent to unlock codexes that empower your character in a variety of ways once equipped and are then made available for your later incarnations to use.

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The writing, by the way, is the game’s strongest point. It constantly and brilliantly makes fun of Dark Souls’ trademark gothic, overly elaborate dialog and lore, and not in a nasty or disrespectful way. As someone who lavishes attention over every item description and dialog line in the Souls games, I found myself laughing out loud often.

The game also looks good. The style may feel overly simplistic in screenshots, but the straight sharp lines and simple polygonal surfaces make for a compelling and atmospheric dungeon setting. The enemy designs are a bit more varying in quality, with some very stylish foes being presented side-by-side with Unity Asset Store rejects. The animation, in the meantime, is fluid but occasionally feels a bit too mechanical.

What’s mostly lacking for Necropolis to rise above the status of curiosity is what is arguably one of the hardest tasks for any action game: the precision and feel of the character’s movement. Basic running, jumping, and strafing feels floaty, dodging is doubly so–a real mess–and while the weapons have particular sensations of weight and rhythm, they never feel quite right; the same can be said for the enemies. Readability and pattern recognition is part of what leads to the sense of mastery crucial to this kind of game, and floaty animations just never allow the player to feel like he or she has grasped it properly.

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It bears saying that none of these things are game-breaking, but here is where the obvious Dark Souls inspiration casts its long shadow; someone who hasn’t played the Souls games will probably feel that the combat mechanics and character movement are “ok.” But players used to From Software’s opus will find themselves  unable to let go of the comparison, and it’s not a favorable one to Necropolis.

On the other hand, the structure of the game does it no favors either. Its randomly generated nature fails to give the dungeon any kind of personality or intricacy, and once you’ve learned how to avoid the traps and have gotten a solid grasp on combat, little will test you.

By then, what initially presented itself as a gauntlet to be conquered will, with alarming speed, turn into a pretty straightforward dungeon crawl–and soon after, into a boring slog. You’ll be wishing you were done with it a long time before you get to the game’s final stretch, never a good sign.
So what are you left with if you strip away Dark Souls’ finely tuned combat mechanics and intricate word design? As it turns out, some endearing lines poking fun at one of gaming’s modern classics, and not a whole lot more.

Necropolis was reviewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.

Developer: Harebrained Schemes | Publisher: Harebrained Schemes (PC)/Bandai Namco (Consoles) | Genre: Action RPG, Rogue-like | Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One | PEGI/ESRB: N/A | Release Date: Out Now (PC) / Summer 2016 (Consoles)

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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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