The European countryside presents itself as a beautiful backdrop for a video game, and developers have begun to take advantage of this: the seclusion of the Swiss alps will make for an effective horror experience in Mundaun, and the picturesque environments of Norway will accompany the suspenseful and mysterious narrative of Draugen. Production company—and occasional game development studio—Bildundtonfabrik (btf) has taken note for its latest title Trüberbrook, set in the deep countryside of Germany during the Cold War.
The game begins with the player, as young American quantum physicist Hans Tannhauser, entering the small town of Trüberbrook, a remote village in a densely forested area in West Germany. The town, however, is near-uninhabited—the only permanent residents, seemingly, are the local baron, the hotel owner, and her daughter. During his first night in the small village, Tannhauser finds that his scientific notepads have been stolen. With the help of fellow tourist Gretchen Lemke, he sets out to find his stolen notes, discovering and unravelling the town’s deep mystery in the process.
The first thing that players will notice about Trüberbrook is its distinct art style. All of the game’s scenery and backdrops were built as real miniature scale models, before being captured with a 3D scanner and placed into the game engine alongside the hand-drawn, animated characters. The effort that the developer has put into the game’s art style is evident from the opening scene, and each setting to follow is a marvel to look at.
Unfortunately, the same praise cannot be extended to the character animation; while the characters themselves are drawn quite well, with exaggerated facial features matching the cartoonish vibe of the settings, the animations become very unnatural at times. Several characters’ movements and actions do not match their dialogue, leading to awkward encounters wherein someone is told bad news about a loved one but continues to wash dishes with a smile on their face, or in which the sound design indicates the player mounting and sailing a boat but no visual animation is present to match. Thankfully, the janky animations do not detract from the experience too heavily.
Trüberbrook plays as a point-and-click adventure game, requiring the player to move their cursor around the game’s environment to discover items to collect, people to talk to, and locations to explore. Unfortunately, the game’s awkward lighting and angles in some locations forces the player to use the ‘Hotspot Indicator’ button, revealing the locations of the objectives in order to proceed.
Sometimes, however, even this tactic does not work, as the solutions to some problems are so farfetched that the player may struggle to complete the experience. One of the game’s obstacles is to cross a shallow patch of water to obtain an ingredient; however, instead of using the player’s nearby boat or the inflatable device in their inventory, they must find two trash can lids and attach them to a pair of rubber boots in order to “walk on water.” The player’s agency and problem-solving skills are dismissed in favour of an absurd solution to a seemingly simple puzzle, and any ongoing momentum that they had from solving previous puzzles comes to a grinding halt as they must continue in the manner that the developer decided.
Therein lies one of Trüberbrook’s greatest weaknesses, one that is most prevalent in the game’s narrative: pacing. A sudden emergency occurs in the game’s third act, presumably requiring the player’s direct and immediate attention. However, the player is promptly tasked with a treasure hunt, where they must track down a list of items to continue the narrative; an exorbitant amount of trading is involved in this process, as the player talks to the nearby NPCs in the hopes that they have the correct item to proceed. At one point during the trading, the game grinds to a complete halt as the player is forced to watch a full, unskippable cutscene of a musical performance—completely irrelevant and unrelated to the game’s narrative—despite a disaster of potentially apocalyptic proportions occurring simultaneously.
This lack of awareness is a repeating problem throughout the game. When an important character development occurs in the third chapter, the player expects an explanation of motivation, yet none comes—and Tannhauser expresses no interest in discovering the motive behind the actions, so when an explanation finally comes later in the game, it is disappointingly anticlimactic. In a manner that reflects the game’s avant-garde attempt, small moments are met with exaggerated reactions, and significant plot events are met with middling responses, resulting in a confused player who is unaware of what to think.
This awkwardness extends to some elements of gameplay, particularly when backtracking through extensive locales to collect missed items, as well as the script and voice acting; however, given the developer’s German roots, some hiccups in dialogue are understandable.
Thankfully, the awkwardness does not apply to the game’s sound design and music. The gentle jazz melodies accompanying each scene perfectly reflects Trüberbrook’s 1960s setting, only increasing in intensity when the story necessitates it. The ambient sound design of the village is also very pertinent to the location, providing the West German town an additional layer of realism and making the world feel more alive.
Trüberbrook is a unique, yet flawed, experience. The game’s art design is an incredible feat, and the amount of sheer effort on display from the developer is tremendous; every frame of Trüberbrook demonstrates the incredible work that btf has achieved in creating the distinct scenery. However, the game suffers from some narrative issues, most notably in regards to its awkward pacing, and as a result the entire experience is affected. Fans of point-and-click adventure games should give Trüberbrook a fair try, but other gamers may wish to enter with caution.
Reviewed on PC.
RAGE 2 Review – Glorious Guns but a Shoddy Structure
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
- Earthworm Jim: PR Stunt, Vanity Project, or Harmless Nostalgia? on
- Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human Hitting PC Before Year’s End on
- Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey Will be Exclusive to Epic Games Store for 12 Months on
- Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey Will be Exclusive to Epic Games Store for 12 Months on
- RUMOUR: Ubisoft Store Leak Reveals Ghost Recon: Breakpoint Ahead of Schedule on
- RUMOUR: Ubisoft Store Leak Reveals Ghost Recon: Breakpoint Ahead of Schedule on
- Days Gone is Not Bad, But It Raises So Many Questions on
- Chernobylite Ends Crowdfunding Campaign With Double its Initial Goal on