Connect with us

Review

Snake Pass Review | Snake Charmer

Published

 on

If Snake Pass was, in fact, a remake of an obscure PS1 game that was only released in Azerbaijan, few would be surprised. Sumo Digital’s charming puzzle platformer is decidedly old-school and evokes fond memories of the time when such games ruled the planet.

Players take on the role of Noodle, a colourful, dough-eyed, adorable snake. Accompanied by his best buddy Doodle, the hummingbird, Noodle is tasked with recovering a series of keystones and returning them to the gates that allow the characters to travel between worlds. Though this premise may sound simple, controlling the eight-foot long bastard-child of a corn snake and Kaa from The Jungle Book is anything but.

The game’s main conceit is that controlling a legless character (that is to say, movement via lateral undulation) is far trickier than wandering about a level with a good ol’ pair of legs.

Rather than just using the left analogue stick, players move Noodle around the environment via a series of button presses, a procedure that does a fantastic job of recreating the myriad processes involved in a snake slithering through his surroundings. Players cannot even travel in a straight line. Noodle needs to move left and right to slither through the tall grass. Using a deft combination of button presses, players are able to climb by coiling around pipes, slither under bridges, and traverse the increasingly intricate environments on the hunt for stones, coins, and snake-extending balls of energy.

Snake-Pass-Earth-Screenshot-

Doodle also helps his serpentine buddy by lifting his tail up. Though this mechanic sounds a bit odd at first, this manoeuvre is literally a lifesaver. Noodle moves realistically and with a proper sense of balance and weight—so if a player does not coil their tail around a pipe properly or dangles too far off a cliff edge, Noodle will slip and fall if Doodle fails to grab the snake’s tail quickly enough. The sight of Noodle tumbling off the side of a level when Doodle is not quick enough to grab his tail—wide-eyed and screaming as he plummets into the bottomless abyss below each level—is absolutely heart wrenching.

Snake Pass’s complex controls take a little getting used to. Fortunately though, the game breaks players in slowly, gently upping the challenge in each successive level at a pace that allows players to build up the necessary skills needed to overcome each levels challenges at a pace that suits them. Each level’s Keystones are usually easy to find while collectables such as coins are usually hidden behind trickier challenges that encourage players to revisit Snake Pass’s earlier stages once they have gotten to grips with Noodle’s more complex manoeuvres.

Each of Snake Pass‘s fifteen levels is bright and lush, replete with thick grass for Noodle to slither through, crumbling ruins to traverse, and, in later levels, deep rivers to swim through while on the hunt for Keystones and other knick-knacks.

Though collecting trinkets is the main aim of Snake Pass, the game is not a collectathon in the Banjo Kazooie/Yooka-Laylee sense with hundreds of items strewn about. Instead, Snake Pass takes cues from Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, presenting players with smaller, more concise levels that are akin to a puzzle box full of complex platforming challenges, rather than a rush to gather all of the things.

HighresScreenshot00066

The strong visual design and cartoony aesthetic help Snake Pass look lovely regardless of what platform the game is running on. While minor differences in visual quality, such as simplified water effects or a shorter draw distance, do emerge during play, Snake Pass rocks along at a consistent 30 frames per second on both Switch and PS4. If one considers that Snake Pass is also the first game on the Switch to use the popular Unreal Engine 4, this bodes well for future third party ports on Nintendo’s new system.

Accompanying the bright, vibrant visuals is another rock-solid score by veteran game composer and ex-Rare developer, David Weiss. The background music combines pan pipes and tribal drums to create an upbeat, South-American-inspired soundtrack that gives the Aztec-inspired locales a real sense of place and keeps the game’s tone light.

Overall, Snake Pass captures the spirit of the late ‘90s platformers perfectly, while dragging the age-old genre slithering and squirming into the modern era, with beautiful visuals, a delightful David Weiss score, and a unique and engaging control scheme. Sumo’s first original IP is a right charmer.

CREDIT

Review

RAGE 2 Review – Glorious Guns but a Shoddy Structure

Published

 on

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 5

A Conflicted Beginning

The opening moments of RAGE 2 are reminiscent of little so much as Killzone. A gravelly voice gives a stirring speech about superiority and the need to quash the rampant spread of lesser humans. The speaker is General Cross, a bald, deformed head—Scolar Visari transplanted across the years and franchises—atop a robotic body. Furthermore, like Killzone, such charisma and character are reserved for the enemy faction, here known as The Authority.

Players quickly get the choice of either a male or female Walker before being tossed into a high-octane battlefield overrun by cyborgs and mutants alike. Armed with only a few basic weapons, Walker is an effective killing machine in this first conflict, and the gameplay experience is as satisfying as they come. The guns are responsive and feel powerful, while the level design invites the kind of non-stop strafing and perpetual motion popularised by classics such as Quake and DOOM.

As veteran gamers might expect from past experiences, the battle goes badly. The heroes are killed, and Walker’s hometown is razed. In using this premise RAGE 2 attempts tired pity-me story beats to invest the player (at this point, unsuccessfully). The hometown hero (and Walker’s mother figure) is slain in the battle, which begins a quest that combines personal vengeance with the global desire to do what is best for the world: stop the monsters.

Before that, players must first expand their skill set, and so the sublime first-person shooter gameplay is joined with RPG mechanics that promise immense depth to the gunplay out in the Wasteland, though the first of these so-termed superpowers is underwhelming, providing the ability to dash out of harm’s way.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 1

With the story set up, the game shifts gears, putting players into an armoured vehicle, and the grippy handling feels as good as the gunplay. The vehicle physics are decidedly arcade-infused, caring little for such nuances as terrain. Instead, all that matters is putting the pedal to the metal and tearing off towards the first objective (and trying to not get too sidetracked in the process).

Despite all of this—the satisfying gunplay, the competent (if so far unspectacular) story, the pleasurable vehicle controls—something feels missing in RAGE 2, a certain spark that will make everything just click.

Gunplay To Die For

Shaking the dust of the ruined Vineland from Walker’s boots for the first time is a bit like bungee jumping. Although the player’s time in the village has been short, they have become acclimatised to a certain po-faced tone and blazingly fast gameplay. Suddenly, though, the security of familiarity drops away as Walker freefalls into the wasteland.

Three story-focused questlines are provided as immediate options, but every path is peppered with distractions and side missions that beg to be roughhoused. After only an hour’s random exploration, the overworld map is littered with icons denoting all sorts of miscellaneous activities.

The Arks, in particular, call for attention. In the fiction, they are similar to Fallout’s Vaults in their stated purpose of repopulating the world post-apocalypse, but they serve primarily as a means of increasing Walker’s abilities. As enticing and—importantly—useful as the Arks are, they highlight a problem about the open world that manifests quite quickly: almost every Ark is blocked by a cohort of enemies, with another set arriving once Walker has acquired her newest skill.

Indeed, most of the activities scattered about the world amount to combat challenges against ever more dangerous foes. Occasionally, random NPCs will offer races, but these are not frequent enough to offset the sheer number of bullets that players will fire both on foot and in their vehicles. Thankfully, many of the enemy outposts, bandit dens, and bounty hideouts feature bespoke, open designs, meaning that players are never at liberty to settle into a single pattern of clearing these challenges.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 2

Further adding diversity (though not nearly enough) are the different combat proclivities of each faction. The Goons and The Shrouded will be the most familiar to gamers, each showcasing a combination of pop-n-shoot gunplay, explosives, and close-range attackers. The mutants are more animalistic, preferring melee. Meanwhile, The Authority uses brute force and high firepower to wipe out any opposition. Although players need to be aware of the unique tactics and skills of each faction, none force the player to change their strategy; the best approach is always to move fast and keep pulling the trigger and, eventually, every enemy breaks down into scattered giblets.

The ever-expanding suite of options, compelling gunplay, varied level design, and satisfying difficulty all ensure that these encounters are never boring, but these traits are not enough to prevent a growing sense of tedium. In many ways, venturing unstructured through the wasteland feels as though the developers had a hammer of a gameplay loop, so every problem had to be a nail.

The bungee jumping analogy, then, comes full circle. After the thrill of freefall, the cord snaps back and the jumper, before too long, arrives back on terra firma. RAGE 2 follows this pattern, as the freedom of tearing across a vast environment always reins itself in to fighting.

However, novelty is not that not-quite-identifiable thing that lurks just beyond reach. Even moving from vehicle to foot changes things up, and the ridiculous amount of options in combat keeps things perpetually fresh.

A Story Lost Amidst the Bombast

The claims about story being a focal point of RAGE 2’s development ring hollow. A forgiving estimate of total narrative-led play time would clock about six hours—a realistic estimate, four. The disappointment spans more than just the brevity, however.

Walker is exactly the kind of faceless, figureless protagonist that has plagued the shooter genre for years. Her bland, no-nonsense demeanour is a dampening lens through which to view this madcap apocalypse, and it undercuts the otherwise energetic tone. Whether interacting with the dour John Marshall or the despicable Doctor Kvasir, Walker remains unflappable, the consummate professional, and that is to the detriment of the whole game. Indeed, her personality—or, rather, the lack thereof—is a clear demonstration of that missing something that has proven so elusive. More on that later, though.

With the story being so short, the lack of impact should come as little surprise. The invasion of Vineland in the opening moments is, by far, the most interesting plot point of the entire game. Such narrative necessities as momentum, surprise, and emotion are jettisoned in favour of a straightforward quest for revenge. Unfortunately, the story is so comprehensively forgettable that nothing else is worth saying about it.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 6

To return now to that something; Walker may want for a personality, but the game does not, and this juxtaposition highlights a central shortcoming: a lack of cohesion. RAGE 2 feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of conflicting visions. The remarkably tight combat and hand-crafted locations are designed for the most frenetic of shooters. However, the wider world makes the gunplay feel like just one part of a design that incorporates meaningless RPG progression and purchase mechanics and a considerable amount of driving from one location to another, with regular pit stops to clear enemy hubs (until that process becomes more tiresome than it has any right to be).

Even the world feels disparate, the map stitched together out of box-ticking biomes. To be fair, the deserts, jungles, waterfalls, and canyons all bear the same breathtaking beauty, but they all blend together into a meaningless mish-mash, with the gameplay locations instead being primarily industrial warehouses. The natural environment is wasted, which makes the open world seem like nothing more than padding—another area where mismatched design principles lead to a game that wants to be everything and suffers because of that ambition.

A Slipshod Structure

Bethesda has already laid out a roadmap of post-launch support for RAGE 2, and that has raised fears among the community that the game adheres to a service model. Such concerns can safely be laid to rest. Although the storyline leaves much to be desired, RAGE 2 is plump with content, as evidenced by the dozens—maybe even hundreds—of markers sprinkled across the map.

Unfortunately, the game suffers too much from its freeform design. Players are immediately free to hunt down the Arks that unlock new abilities. As such, every skill and weapon can be unlocked within a handful of hours, which is disastrous for pacing. Even more troublesome, the RPG mechanics serve no real purpose. Players need never purchase a single upgrade to succeed, and the sheer number of different currencies make doing so a chore anyway.

Because of this lack of structure, a game that could still be interesting 30 hours in can also feel worn our within a dozen, and that suggests the post-launch support will likely only appeal to a dedicated fanbase. The challenges, vehicles, and events scheduled to arrive in the coming months will likely not change up the core gameplay structure all that much. Instead, judging by the little information already available, they may simply give dedicated fans more of what they desire.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 8

On a completely different note, but equally as concerning as the game structure is the enemy design. Beginning with General Cross and extending across the Goons, mutants, and other factions, RAGE 2 seems to take a perverse pleasure in vilifying the Other, the outsider, the disabled, the religious. Even Doctor Kvasir, as a former Authority scientist with questionable morals, is a deformed being. By contrast, the undisputed heroes are all healthy and whole. While problematic in some respects, this subtle and most likely unintentional subtext is easily overlooked and unlikely to affect the enjoyment of most gamers.

Simply put, RAGE 2 is a strange beast. Perhaps that was inevitable as the follow-up to a middling first effort developed across two very different studios. Perhaps that shared production is also the reason for the lack of unity. Whatever the reason, RAGE 2 is clearly best suited to a particular kind of player. The game offers an often-beautiful environment combined with easy, enjoyable traversal mechanics. Comprising the bulk of the experience is some of the finest and most diverse gunplay combat to be found gaming today. However, these charms are let down somewhat by the lacking story and structure and a general feeling of a tonal mismatch between the bland protagonist and the madcap world.

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on Xbox One X.

Continue Reading