Monday, 4 April 2016

FEATURE: Don't buy New Gen Yet!

That's a pretty provocative title isn't it? It's not meant to rile up current gen owners (like myself), The X1, PS4 and Wii U have some amazing games both from internal studios and external ones but if you're not here with us yet (or are looking to jump ship), please just wait a few months.

So lets get round to that title and to why, Right now there is plenty of great deals on next gen systems but there is also non-stop swirl of rumours making those deals... not that much of a deal. We're at a cross roads right now. With things like new systems, VR, hardware updates and who knows what else at E3 all geared to throw the status quo straight out of a window.`

Wii U
Lets start with the most likely of the three. We know Nintendo has a new system on its way, currently codenamed: NX. What do we know about it? Not a whole lot if we're talking facts, we know Nintendo will give the world an real look at it during June's E3 event. This obviously makes the Wii U a slightly shaky purchase right now. We're only 90% certain that the NX is a home system to replace the Wii U. The only "certainty" according to rumour and analysts is that it'll launch in November.

Risk: High, its unknown if the NX will play Wii U games.

Now moving on to the middle likely one. This October Sony is launching it's VR headset for the PS4 but it wont plug directly into the console. instead the headset connects to a box (that actually looks like an baby PS4) that boosts the consoles specs to handle the demands of VR.

Why you should hold of? There is repeated reports of an updated PS4 being launched this year, unlike previous revisions like the PS2 slim this one is said to be an upgrade. Either names the PS4.5 or PS4K. The rumour says this version of PS4 will have the VR's extra grunt built into the console making the PSVR set up a little bit more entertainment center but these reports claim that this version of ps4 will (somehow) output games at 4K instead of 1080p.

Risk: Moderate to High, I personally don't think Sony would go the annual update route as this would start annoying customers as exclusive content starts appearing. I do however believe that they would release a PlayStation-VR, an PS4 geared towards VR having the extra grunt built in but coming with the PS-Move controllers instead of a DS4.

Xbox OneHere we are at the last one and the most confusing. Rumours began to swirl around when head of Xbox Phil Spencer said he didn't want to wait for a generational leap to improve Xbox one. This instantly lead people to believe Microsoft would release modular hardware updates so users could upgrade their machine for more performance. Spencer shot that idea down saying "I don't want fans opening up the Xbox with a screw driver". This led fans to believe that MS planned to release a similar to the rumoured PS4.5, A Xbox 1.5 if you will. Again Spencer shot this idea down.

So right now we have an concept "more xbox one power" but no idea how, the only remaining concept would be MS using cloud streaming to augment the Xbox one's processes.

Risk: Low to moderate. MS plans are unimportant right now as they have stated they want their games to be both backward compatible and forward compatible, we shouldn't see .5 exclusive releases. Hell from the sounds of it we could even be seeing some PC games come to X1.

Abe's Take
This article is hard to write as I don't like telling people to not get involved in gaming, right now there is some mind blowing, fantastic titles but I've also bought devices only for a better version to be announced a few months later. It's best to hunker down and wait till E3.

Fighting Fantasy: The Citadel of Chaos - review (not yet Android)

Fighting Fantasy: The Citadel of Chaos - review (not yet Android)

It seems the further we go into the future the more the past strikes me as an interesting place to be. I don’t know why but it seems many people feel the same way. With the rush for “the classics” such as Metal Slug to be released on mobile and Atari recently releasing their vaults online, gamers yearn more and more for a cultural wormhole travelling us backwards in time someway, somewhere, a Quantum Leap to those sweet ol’ time where things were much simpler. But of course they weren’t were they? 

Setting up a game of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons today or even conceiving how that crazy man down the street had the patience to set up a Spectrum seem, well, crazy. I think what keeps dragging us backwards into the history of gaming, short of a cultural regression or a longing for the comfort of a bosom, is simply that games were far more challenging back then. There's that old Robert Heinlein phrase that values are created through suffering. On that note, I decided to track down a few adventure gamebooks of yesteryear and was pleased to discover Tinman games had already been in the habit of adapting many of my favourite torture devices for Android. Hurrah! 

Today, I'm going to look at a game Tinman have yet to adapt, The Citadel of Chaos, which desperately needs a release. Join me as I head back to '83, or at least a bookshelf, to review the original in all its despised front cover glory.

 What the hell is that thing? 
Well, it resembles a cross between a Leopard and a bear. 
A Bearpard! 

This game is the very definition of the phrase "Never judge a book by its cover." The creature in the foreground (isn't even in the game) resembles a prop from some 1950's Sci Fi movie, various shapes in the background march two by two from a tower and, well, that orange has the feel of absolute abandonment as if the colourist simply gave up. What a mess and, yet, I love this cover. It captures the pulp style of many 70s horror novels, such as Chamber of Horrors, where garish colours and dramatic close-ups took a similar approach. Nostalgia or madness? Perhaps a bit of both.

The first in the Fighting Fantasy series to be exclusively written by Steve Jackson (who eventually would go on to co-develop Lionhead studios), Citadel was one of the first gamebooks that had a system for utilising spellcraft. Players could select from a myriad of spells including E.S.P., Creature Copy, Fools’ Gold and Illusion. It was also the first of the series that could be described as extremely challenging. Where Firetop Mountain was a battle game relying on dice rolls and skill (minus that extremely cruel maze part), surviving the citadel relied on accurately navigating its chambers, with the right equipment whilst making confident judgements on each creature you encountered therein. 
Cover aside, the story was the real draw. The Citadel of Chaos places you in the role of a trainee wizard apprentice tasked with the mission of assassinating the war monger and demi sorcerer Balthus Dire. To this end you break into his citadel and must navigate your way through its inhabitants before eventually reaching his black tower and executing him; thereby preventing a war against your homeland.
The creatures within the citadel are also very colourful, a collection of sadists, psychopaths and savages. Many of them are selected from mythology while others still more interesting were designed by the author himself such as the Wheelies, Gaks and the dreaded Ganjees. knowing their niches and weaknesses are of crucial importance as wrong moves will invariably lead to a nasty end.

The book will punish you for forgetting your spell rules or failing to plan ahead. An example might be using magic, it backfiring and, naturally, resulting in your immediate death. On a replay run, it took half a dozen attempts to finish the book and crafting a map of the entire citadel was almost fundamentally necessary in order to reach a successful ending. The war theme also lent the story a sense of tense urgency lacking in the first book. Here there were real consequences of your failure which contributed to the overall replay value even with the challenges presented.

The challenge of this book is what makes it enduring. I remember lending a friend Talisman of Death over a decade ago and being given it back completed the next day with his look of marginal disappointment. Simplicity is death to the adventure gamebooks endurance. The Citadel of Chaos builds upon the weak areas of the first book (such as the combat rounds) and avoids complex puzzle traps that later books would fall into. Instead, the main challenge comes in the form of accurate judgment of your possessions, knowledge and spells to defeat many of the toughest encounters and quickly get through to the Sorcerer’s tower for the penultimate battle. 

This is truly a good, fun challange for those who enjoy RPGs and fantasy literature. Being vivid in both its characters and perils, it badly deserves an Android release. Here's hoping Tinman will one day give it that push. Until then, dust off that weird cover and have another shot at that black tower, you owe it to yourself.