Game release: “Parkitect” (PC)

Texel Raptor’s theme park building simulation Parkitect is another example of indie fun with a love for the classics.

I recently covered the second anniversary of Planet Coaster, and while this title might not have the graphical power, it still looks to be a great homage to the original Theme Park and Rollercoaster Tycoon games. It has everything one would want in a title like this: building customized theme park attractions, managing staff and resources, and keeping visitors happy.

While this all sounds very familiar, the concept of keeping the staff areas out of the visitors’ eyes in order to prevent the immersive theme park experience from being broken is a nice touch, as is the night mode in which all sorts of lighting effects make one’s theme park even more beautiful to look at. It’s also great to have over 70 types of theme park rides, which means it’s not all about rollercoaster design. 26 campaign scenarios as well as a sandbox mode should be enough to lose countless hours, too.

The game is out now on PC, and even if it might not reinvent the genre, every theme park building simulation title that combines a fun presentation with deeper layers of management systems is welcome.

Buy the game for PC on
GOG
Steam

Official website

If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page :). Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
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Game release: “Darksiders III” (PC,PS4,Xbox One)

Gunfire Games and THQ Nordic revive the classic action-adventure series with Darksiders III.

It has been six years since the release of the second Darksiders game, but only two with Darksiders: Warmastered Edition and three with Darksiders II – Deathinitive Edition bringing the series to a new generation of gamers. The mix of God of War-style hack and slash in addition to Zelda-like puzzles and exploration was a lot of fun back in the days, and the games still look appealing today thanks to the art direction of comic writer Joe Madureira, and the newest entry seems to continue this tradition.

The main protagonist is Fury, the sister of War and Death who are part of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ensemble, and it’s up to her to stop the Seven Deadly Sins from destroying the world. No easy feat, but with the use of her whip and magic, she doesn’t back down and unleashes flurries of attacks on all sorts of demonic enemies. Variety in fighting styles is a given due to the various magic forms she can take which make her use different weapons, moves, and ways of traversing the open world. Collecting souls from defeated enemies and using them for leveling up and upgrading Fury’s abilities and weapons might sound familiar to those who’ve played Dark Souls, but as this gameplay element has been there since God of War, one can’t hold this lack of originality against it. The game might not reinvent the genre, but it sure looks like over-the-top entertainment the series has been known for.

Darksiders III is now available on PC as well as on PS4 and Xbox One in various retail and online versions. The deluxe edition includes the base game and two paid DLCs as well as the soundtrack, while the Blades & Whip edition should be considered the complete package with the former two games as remastered versions.

Buy the digital standard edition for PC on
GOG
Steam

Buy the digital deluxe edition for PC on
GOG
Steam

Buy the digital Blades & Whip edition for PC on
GOG
Steam

Buy the digital standard edition for PS4 on
the PSN store

Buy the digital deluxe edition for PS4 on
the PSN store

Buy the digital Blades & Whip edition for PS4 on
the PSN store

Buy the digital standard edition for Xbox One on
the Xbox store

Buy the digital deluxe edition for Xbox One on
the Xbox store

Buy the digital Blades & Whip edition for Xbox One on
the Xbox store

Buy the retail version for PC on
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Buy the retail version for PS4 on
Amazon Germany (import)
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Buy the retail version for Xbox One on
Amazon Germany (import)
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Official website

If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page :). Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using one of the GOG or Amazon links and buying the products also helps ;).

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Cyberpunk stories: “Cyberia 2: Resurrection” (PC)

Can Xatrix Entertainment’s sequel Cyberia 2: Resurrection improve on the action-adventure/on-rails shooter gameplay and narrative of its predecessor Cyberia?

Cyberia 2 (PC)
(USA 1995, developer: Xatrix Entertainment (now defunct), publisher: Interplay, platform: PC)

Cyber hacker Zak wakes up after his cryo sleep, only to be assigned to hunt down Dr. Corbin who used the remains of the Cyberia weapon to create a deadly virus that threatens the world.

Cinematic blockbuster or not
Knowledge of the previous game‘s story and characters isn’t required, even if the plot continues where it left off. There isn’t really much to remember about the story or characters, anyway, with both just serving as a background for shooting action and puzzles like before. The mix of espionage/infiltration thriller and James Bond-like action-adventure might not win any Academy awards, but it’s entertaining enough if one overlooks how silly and even surreal in some strange dream sequences it sometimes becomes. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the first game is rarely felt, usually making way for more explosive set-pieces.

Shooting stuff in and outside cyberspace
The on-rails shooting action is over-the-top fun at times, as in the beginning when one tries to escape with a futuristic car and shoots all incoming enemies in the air and on the ground. But it can also be rather dull, as one walks through corridors and has to decide in which direction to go. All in all, it’s just the same procedure as before: trying to aim and shoot as fast as possible or as best one can manage due to the wonky controls and the often fast movement or overwhelming number of enemies. Remembering attack patterns and setting priorities are really the only things that can help to survive the tricky sections. One even has to duck, jump, or move from side to side while walking. If this sounds like more freedom, it really isn’t because it adds to frustration, as jumping over acid or performing slow movements while firing at the same time is pretty cumbersome.

More puzzling than puzzles
Puzzles are again rather obscure at times, although cyberspace is put to much better use, at least concept-wise, as the gameplay creates even more problems. It’s great to hack into a computer system and move through its structure with folders containing information about projects or persons, adding more deductive adventure elements to proceedings. However, as this is done by flying through various stages and clicking on the appropriate symbol at the right moment, missing it results in going through the same process. As this tedious procedure is repeated later on, it outstays its welcome and doesn’t add much variety, anyway. The rest of the puzzles aren’t much to write home about, either, with more trial and error and not enough clues, but more death scenes if one isn’t quick enough or does some things in the wrong order. The BLADES scan mechanism isn’t used anymore, as a computer specialist helps with some of the puzzles and chooses the right tool for the player, so there is even less experimentation necessary.

Looks and sounds familiar
Technologically, the game isn’t much different from its predecessor, with the same highs and lows. Some well-done CG cutscenes and okay-looking environments, but outdated character models and often a pixel mess during on-rails shooting segments, while a cool soundtrack and generally good voice acting add to the cinematic but also quite lifeless presentation at times.

The same or a different game?
Cyberia 2 isn’t much different than the first game, as it still blends action-adventure and on-rails shooting action together, focusing more on the latter than the former. It’s not a bad game per se, as it’s much better than what some critics or gamers make it out to be with their nostalgic look at its predecessor that wasn’t the greatest title in cyberspace, either. A lack of originality is certainly one of the problems, while a frustratingly high difficulty level, not-so-memorable characters and a not-so-great storyline make this a forgettable, but still quite entertaining experience.

Score: 6.5/10

Buy the digital PC version on
GOG
Steam

Buy the retail version for PC on
Amazon Germany
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page :). Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using the GOG or Amazon links and buying the product also helps ;).

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Cyberpunk stories: “Cyberia” (PC)

Xatrix Entertainment’s Cyberia excelled in cinematic CG graphics and action-adventure gameplay back in the days, but does it still hold up well today?

Cyberia (PC)
(USA 1994, developer: Xatrix Entertainment (now defunct), publisher: Interplay, platforms: PC, FM Towns, Sega Saturn, 3DO, PS1)

In the year 2027, two opposing super powers compete against each other after a global economic collapse, and it’s up to cyber-hacker Zebulon Pike “Zak” Kingston to infiltrate an underground secret base in Siberia where a mysterious weapon is developed.

Storytelling in cyberspace
Cyberpunk and espionage thrillers can be thought-provoking because of their similarities to our modern age in which technological progress can result in unprecedented catastrophes, but they can also end up as convoluted and unintentionally funny stories with too much tech talk thrown in. While Cyberia might not be material for a trash movie, it isn’t much material for an epic or thrilling story, either. Despite providing a solid background for all the shooting and adventuring, neither characters nor storyline aren’t anything worth remembering. This isn’t to say that they’re boring, because there are a few narrative surprises and enough set-pieces to make for a entertaining movie. But there isn’t any emotional connection to the bland main character or the plot that is often just an excuse for the next shooting or puzzle solving segment.

Puzzling confusion
The gameplay is an interesting mix of action-adventure and on-rails shooter, with difficulty settings that can be adjusted accordingly. This means that some puzzles don’t even have to be solved and action sequences become even harder, and vice versa. There’s even a bit of decision-making, as certain actions, e.g. kissing the woman at the beginning resulting in a less than friendly welcome by her boss. One shouldn’t expect a completely different storyline, though, as these and other parts of the game are just alternative ways to progress. As the puzzles are already obscure enough without many hints, one should find a good compromise between both modes, even as an adventure gamer.

The puzzles are varied enough due to the use of Zak’s BLADES (Bi-optic Low Amplitude Displayed Energy System) that scan objects in three modes: InfraRed/Thermal Scan to heat traces and marks left in the InfraRed spectrum, Magnetic Resonance Imaging to look through an object to see how it works (good for defusing bombs or unlocking a door), and BioScan to scan for organic matter. These cyberpunk tools aren’t just gimmicks, but add variety to puzzles and immerses the player. However, it doesn’t prevent the game from becoming very difficult in solving these conundrums because of too many time-sensitive sequences and far too many deaths to count. As one can’t save anytime, replaying a very annoying and long part becomes common practice.

Shooting frustration
It’s not only the puzzle segments that are difficult and require a lot of backtracking and reading files on computers, but the corridor and on-rails shooting levels aren’t a piece of cake, either. Reminiscent of Rebel Assault and Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire, these parts are frustrating to play, not only because of the sheer number of enemies requiring fast reflexes, but also because of the very imprecise controls. No matter if played with a mouse, gamepad or joystick, one can’t seem to be fast enough to hit every target.

This is a shame, because the flight action sequences outdoors are usually quite fun, as there’s so much going on in the background to evoke the feeling of being in an arcade cabinet. Of course this also means that one has to be careful what is CG eye candy and what becomes an enemy threat. Unfortunately, there is an almost impossible and difficult on-rails shooting section in which one has to destroy very small virus parts where missing only a few results in an instant gameover. As the speed of flight and the bad controls unnecessarily complicate things, this borders on the unfair.

Technological advances and disadvantages
The graphics haven’t aged that well with doll-like character models, often pixelated backgrounds during the on-rails sections and lifeless if atmospherically claustrophobic environments in the adventure segments. However, explosion effects are great, and some of the various futuristic vehicles have a certain coolness in their design about them. The voice acting is quite good as well, but the music and sound effects are even better. With on-rails sections being restricted to a single path to take, the cinematic music adapts to each situation with some build-up and bombastic moments that are further enhanced by flight chatter and other environmental sounds.

The past game in the present future landscape
Cyberia is one of those games that might have been blown away the audience due to its cinematic presentation with various camera angles and great music, but nowadays one realizes that gameplay and writing aren’t that polished. The on-rails shooting sections are still a lot of fun, but the high difficulty spikes aren’t. The same goes for the puzzles that are too obscure, and death sequences that are too frequent. A story and characters that are as cold as cyberspace itself make the game a relic of the past when CG graphics could cover up a not-so-great game.

Score: 6.5/10

Buy the digital PC version on
GOG
Steam

Buy the retail version for PC on
Amazon Germany
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page :). Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using the GOG or Amazon links and buying the product also helps ;).

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Management sims: “No Pineapple Left Behind” (PC)

Subaltern Games‘s management sim No Pineapple Left Behind turns out to be more like a satirical education simulator.

No Pineapple Left Behind (PC)
(USA 2016, developer/publisher: Subaltern Games, platform: PC)

Manage a school with its students and teachers without going bankrupt or having too many bad grades.

A hard knock life in school
The education system is an important but often neglected part of society that has been attacked time and again, either because teachers are helpless against classes that are too big or students that are anti-social and not willing too learn. The tight budgets and fluctuations in staff are further examples of how something that should be on top of the list for governments has become a more and more difficult job, especially for school principals. This is where the player comes in who learns the hard way how impossible the task at hand is.

Some kind of teaching magic
First one has to decide which teachers to hire and how much payment they receive at the end of the day. Being suitable for the right subjects isn’t the only thing to consider, as simply firing new teachers without any payment and getting some new ones is also a viable option. This might sound cruel and also a bit unrealistic, but it’s often the only way to save enough money that can be used for other things. Unlike most management simulations, one doesn’t have control over the buildings themselves, so deciding where to put rooms and how to equip them isn’t possible. One simply manages teachers who have a direct influence on students. This is achieved in and outside class rooms. While teaching different subjects, the staff can cast spells on the individual kids. These go in a far more personal and mind-controlling direction than one would expect, highlighting the danger of what schools could turn or already have turned into.

Each student has unique character traits and soon wants to become friends with or even a boyfriend/girlfriend for his/her classmates. This ultimately results in worse grades and therefore less money for the school. The only way to prevent this from happening is to cast an “unfriend” spell, because the less a student is distracted and the more he/she is willing to learn, the higher a class grade becomes (also by using other spells during class) and the more money the school earns. This sounds simple enough, but there’s obviously a catch.

Students with issues and teachers with spells
Just as in real life, teachers can become exhausted during their normal classes, and each additional spell costs energy that constantly decreases over the course of the day and can only be replenished after school. Usually the hours before the next school day starts aren’t enough to replenish it fully, depending on how many spells a teacher has cast and how high his wage is to recuperate, making him or her even less productive. The less energy he/she has, the less likely it becomes that students learn something in their courses, which again makes students become depressed, as they don’t achieve their learning goals. So one constantly has to adjust a teacher’s behavior almost every lesson, which can become a Herculean task with so much staff to manage at the same time. Additional goals per day further complicate things, because some parents want their children to have a specific grade, while others don’t want their children to be teased by or become friends with someone specific.

With so many classes and students to keep an eye on, micromanagement is the order of the day. As each student and teacher has to be targeted individually, the pause button is the principal’s best friend, as it’s otherwise impossible to do everything. Even then it becomes very difficult to see everything and take care of everyone, as so much is going on. Of course there are statistics and a list that can help to locate each individual student regarding their friendship and learning status or each teacher according to their energy, but this is more hectic work than fun. There is also too little time each day to do all the tasks. While one can and has to cast most of the spells during breaks between class or lunch and when students wait for the school bus, the difficulty of managing everything and everyone remains very high.

Same learning day, same teaching game
The main problem of the game is that one does the same things from level to level. Mission goals might slightly change, e.g. introducing a school team that has to win without losing morale or grades, but it’s still all about the management of money, students, and teachers, while using the right spells at the right time. The difficulty curve also reaches a point when it becomes simply impossible to succeed, as in the last level that implies it might be unwinnable, driving home the message how hard school life is and that one can’t have individuality/humanity and consistently good grades (a very one-sided and questionable message actually). To understand the title with the fruit, one has to see how the individual character traits work. The more one loses friends/one’s humanity, the more likely one turns into a pineapple. This is the ultimate goal, because pineapples don’t have any other ambition except for being on time in class and having good grades, making them much easier to manage. Of course if they fail classes due to the teacher’s exhaustion, they turn into normal students again.

As there are new problems cropping up, new ways of dealing with them or at least making everyday school life more manageable result in different approaches on how one can complete levels. So instead of relying on students to go to class on their leisure, one can recruit a police officer to immediately point them there and even send them back when they decide to go to the bathroom during classes (something that happens way too often and usually makes a whole class fail their grades’ goal). As not every spell is available to each teacher, a librarian can to be recruited to unlock more powerful but also more energy-consuming spells. This doesn’t mean that teachers can learn these right away, though, because they still have to reach a certain level of expertise. The whole spell system is almost like an inventory in an RPG, as one can decide which spells or bonus attributes can be used at the same time, making for some very different gameplay styles.

Technological regress
Technically, the game isn’t particularly enticing. While the characters and backgrounds look okay, it’s only the special effects when magic spells are cast or a class succeeds to reach a specific grade that are nice. Despite a lot going on, one doesn’t get the sense of watching students or teachers for fun, not only because one is so busy with micromanagement, but because the animations don’t invite curiosity as in other building or management sims, although seeing a group of pineapples hop along in school corridors certainly looks unique. It doesn’t help that the backgrounds don’t change at all and that one looks at the same corridors and the same rooms without any graphical gimmicks, like the changing of seasons outside. Sound effects can also become highly repetitive and annoying after a while, probably because the same happens again and again. Only the catchy musical score can save the audio from falling by the wayside, but even this isn’t varied enough that one doesn’t notice its loop.

A game about learning by failing
No Pineapple Left Behind is a unique parody take on the education system, although like the real thing, being a school principal in a game can be a lot of tedious work. Too much actually, as what should be fun ends up in frustrating routine. The game certainly offers an interesting mix of management sim and intricate RTS/RPG elements, but only those who invest time and are resilient against failures that aren’t always their fault because of the A.I. and some bugs (like corrupted save games), will persevere and find playtime reaching over 50 hours (probably because of the last unwinnable level). If there would be more variety in the levels and environments, this would have been a better game. As it is, the message of the fledgling education system becomes actually detrimental to the actual gameplay, because if the developer really wants to make players aware of how stressful school life can be, then it’s definitely a successful venture.

Score: 7/10

Buy the game for PC on
GOG
Steam

Buy the soundtrack on
GOG
Steam

Official Website

If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page :). Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using the GOG links and buying the products also helps ;).

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