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 belong. I don’t know why, but it seems many 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. 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 insane man down the street had the patience to set up a Spectrum seem, well, insane. I think what keeps dragging us backwards into the history of gaming - short of a cultural regression or the longing for the comfort of the bosom - is that games were far more challenging back then. Robert Heinlein knew best when he wrote "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. 
Today, I'm going to look at a game Tinman have yet to adapt, The Citadel of Chaos, which desperately needs a re-release. Join me as I head back to '83, or at the very least a bookshelf, to review the original in its heinously bad front cover glory.

 What the hell is that thing? 
hmmmm, it resembles a cross between a bear and a leopard. 
A bearpard?

Bizarrly, the creature in the foreground, the one that resembles a prop from some 1950's Sci Fi movie, isn't even in the game. Various shapes in the distance march two by two from an evil Disney tower and, well, all that orange fives the feel of wanton abandonment as if the colourist simply gave up and went home early. It's a mess Jackson Polock would be proud of. All this and, yet, I love this cover. It captures the pulpy style of many 70s horror novels, such as Chamber of Horrors, where garish colours and dramatic close-ups all took a similar approach. Nostalgia or madness? Perhaps both.

Cover aside, the story was the real draw. The first in the Fighting Fantasy series to be exclusively written by Steve Jackson (who eventually would go on to co-develop Lionhead studios), The Citadel of Chaos places you in the role of a wizard apprentice tasked with the mission of assassinating a war monger and demi sorcerer named Balthus Dire. His death will mean preventing a war against your homeland. This war theme lends the game a sense of urgency lacking in the first book. Here there are real consequences of your failure which will contribute to the replay value even with the challenges presented.

Citadel was also one of the first gamebooks to have a system for utilising spellcraft. Players could select from a myriad of spells including E.S.P., Creature Copy, Fools’ Gold and Illusion. The book 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 this book meant relying on your accuracy navigating its chambers, with the right equipment whilst making confident judgements with each creature encountered therein. 
The creatures within the citadel are a very colourful 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.

Nasty indeed as the book will punish you for forgetting your spell rules or failing to plan ahead. An example might be using magic, this then backfiring on you and, naturally, resulting in your immediate death. On a replay run, it took a half dozen attempts to finish and crafting a map of the entire citadel was almost fundamentally necessary in order to reach a successful ending.

The difficutly 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 s look of marginal disappointment. Simplicity is death to an adventure gamebooks endurance. The Citadel of Chaos builds upon the weak areas of the first book in the series (such as the combat rounds) whilst avoiding the complex puzzle traps later books in the series would fall into. Instead, the main challenge comes in the form of accurate judgment of possessions, knowledge of environemtn and reliance on spells to defeat many of the tougher encounters and quickly gain access to the Sorcerer’s tower for a penultimate battle. 

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