WCTV Podcast #4 – Hunting Season

Recently I’ve been invited to appear on WindyCornerTV’s channel to help record a podcast! Earlier this year we recorded and episode for the 10th anniversary of the Nintendo 3DS, and decided to make the podcast a regular thing!

In each episode we’ll discuss recent releases, games we played and reviewed over the last couple of weeks, and interesting topics from the games industry around the world. In this episode we discuss the biggest release of the last month: Monster Hunter Rise! Robert also dives into his experience with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 on the PlayStation 5, we chat about the recent VR version of DOOM 3 for the PSVR, and I discuss my time at the Hamburg Games Conference and recent review of Everhood on Nintendo Switch.

You can watch the podcast here:

Stay tuned for future episodes and be sure to check out WindyCornerTV’s channel!
In the next episode I’ll be talking about my weekend playing the Diablo II: Resurrected technical alpha.

Altdeus: Beyond Chronos Review – PSVR

The most visual of visual novels.

Have you ever read a book? You know, those compilations of physical pages that you have to manually read and turn in order to experience a linear plot? I’m going to assume you probably have.

Now, have you ever read a choose-your-own-adventure book? A book that gives you the option to make choices that dramatically affect the course of the plot. Usually it will require you to flip to a particular page where your choice causes the story to branch off in a different direction. Goosebumps books were some of the most popular. It was exhilarating to know the choices I made could make such an impact (even if it mostly resulting in my character dying).

A visual novel (VN) is the evolution of this concept – a digital version of a choose-your-own-adventure book. The visual novel is a staple of modern gaming in Japan and often features intricate plot, strong character development, and branching narratives. The genre emerged in the early ’90s thanks to the advances in computer graphics and continued to increase in popularity well into the early 2000s. Some notable titles in the genre include the tear-jerking Clannad, time-travelling banana scientist in Steins;Gate, and internet favourite dating simulator, Katawa Shojo. As a well-established genre, there are even some visual novels about dating pigeons, or ones I’ve played that I probably shouldn’t mention in public.

Above: Clannad, Steins;Gate, Katawa Shoujo.

Thanks to VR game developer studio MyDearest, who have created VR novels and manga, the visual novel has now moved one step closer to reality. In 2019 their first game Tokyo Chronos became one of the first VNs to enter VR, and was successful enough to justify a sequel. Released initially for the Oculus Quest in 2020, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos garnered multiple awards and received critical acclaim. Now available for the PSVR, how does this version hold up? And is it good enough that it’ll make you want to throw out all your physical novels?

Plot

The year is 2280. The world has been ravaged by interdimensional aliens called Meteroa, which obliterate all life on the surface with weaponised sound waves. Humanity has been forced to withdraw underground into their last bastion, establishing a digital Tokyo with all of its citizens connected to a server. In attempts to retaliate, a group known as Prometheus recruits pilots for its Evangelion-sized mecha. You play as Chloe, an artificial human designed for the sole purpose of operating the Makhia and defending the remnants of Tokyo from complete annihilation.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR Makhia
Remember folks, if you ever need to pilot a giant robot, be sure to bring an idol with you.

Alongside Chloe at all times is the artificial-intelligence companion, AARC Noa, a part-time pilot, part-time idol, full-time sass machine, modelled off the consciousness of her recently deceased best friend: Coco Coconoe. Though Coco has been gone for 2 years after being devoured by a Meteroa, Chloe has frequent flashbacks of their time spent together, having learned the intricacies of human emotion from their many interactions. At times it feels as if Chloe can still feel her deep connection to Coco, hearing her voice whispering from beyond. Then, only hours into your journey, a fateful encounter with a mysterious Meteroa changes everything that Chloe has been led to believe…

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR  Coco
The deep bond formed between Chloe (player) and Coco (pictured) becomes highly emotive.

Arguably the most important aspect of any visual novel is its plot, and ALTDEUS delivers one that is gripping, emotional, and has heavy themes of human connection despite the game’s many artificial characters. Featuring eight separate endings, choices made during character interaction and battle sequences bear significant weight and will drastically change your outcome.

Gameplay

If you’re playing a VN for its gameplay, you’re probably doing it wrong. As I discussed at the beginning of this article, this genre is akin to an interactive story where choices influence the plot. As such, gameplay in ALTDEUS is minimal and consists mostly of dialogue, character interaction, occasional use of the Move Controllers and the odd battle sequence. It’s fairly basic gameplay and completely approachable even to complete newcomers to VR – as most of the game is static, you’re very unlikely to experience any motion-sickness at all.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR Choices
Your choices influence the story. Just like real life!

Scattered throughout the game are sequences in which you pilot the Makhia: a giant robot controlled by a “Neural Link” (your VR headset) and “Mikani Links” (your Move controllers). In connecting with the Makhia, you work alongside idol/AI Noa performing various actions to form shields, analyse the opponent, or charge and launch your rail cannon. Though each of these actions is incredibly simple to perform, your choice and timing will decide how the battle plays out. Initially I was blown away by these sequences, which feel as if you really are in the cockpit of a giant robot, but by the end of the game I had seen the same thing so many times that the novelty had worn off almost completely.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR VR
Get in the robot, S̶h̶i̶n̶j̶i̶ Chloe.

Visuals

A virtual reality game set in a virtual Tokyo should look like a virtual Tokyo, right? Right. During the game you’ll get to stand in the centre of Tokyo’s iconic Shibuya Scramble Crossing which is quite surreal; I found myself pausing momentarily to admire my surroundings in 360 degrees despite the low-resolution textures. Most other environments appear quite bland with little detail, though the clean character models with their distinct anime design will draw your attention away from this.

Sadly the game’s visuals are somewhat hindered and result in low-detail, blurry textures due to the limitations of the PSVR, as can be seen below:

Left: PSVR, Right: PC.

There are however a couple of redeeming features to the game’s visuals. Sequences inside of the giant Makhia robots are impressive and look just as anime has led you to imagine: surrounded by with HUDs, screens and warning symbols. I was also blown away by the 360 degree concerts performed by Noa throughout the game, which transport you to a virtual concert space where you are truly immersed in the visuals during her performance as she sings and dances around you. It’s hard to fully describe and must be experienced first-hand.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR 360 Idol Concert
The 360 degree idol concerts are a visual spectacle.

Audio/Soundtrack

If you’re going to read through text for 15 – 20 hours, you may as well do so accompanied by some brilliant music. ALTDEUS’ soundtrack is a collaboration between multiple musicians:
– In-house composer Yosuke Kori.
– J-pop/electro musician kz(livetune) who has composed many anime openings.
– Kunuyuki Takahashi (MONACA), who arranged tracks for NieR and NieR:Automata.
– R!N who is well-known for her powerful voice in Attack on Titan’s vocal tracks.

Many of the background tracks convey a calm, wistful, and sometimes melancholic feeling, which is often reflected in the music that plays during the game’s frequent flashbacks. I’d relate this to the music in other emotional visual novels, think Clannad. This is juxtaposed by the high-tempo, upbeat idol-style songs that are scattered throughout the game’s virtual idol performances. I was most-impressed by the incredibly immersive, 360 degree anime opening that plays in the first hour of the game, which I imagine would be similar to attending a vocaloid concert.

It’s worth noting that the vocal tracks are some of the best I’ve heard in a game and are of such quality that they deserve their own standalone album. Below are a couple of my favourite tracks from the game:

An intense battle theme during the first Meteroa fight:

One of the catchy, upbeat idol tracks that Noa sings:

While I sing the soundtrack’s praises, it’s important that the voice acting too is up to scratch, as for the vast majority of the game you’ll be listening to character dialogue. You’re given the choice between an English and Japanese dub, and me being the weeb I am, I chose the latter. Not once did I tire of hearing any of the voice-acting, which has clear delivery, believable acting and even some serious emotional weight behind it during some of the more touching moments in the game. At times it felt just as if I was watching a quality anime production thanks to the voice acting of the game.

Conclusion

Having never previously played a virtual visual novel, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos is a PSVR game unlike any other I’ve encountered, and one I would highly recommend for those looking for a unique VR experience. Fans of anime too are also likely to get a kick out of ALTDEUS, as it clearly draws inspiration from series like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Macross.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR Makhia
Yeah, I’d definitely skip a meeting to go see a giant robot too.

With 8 separate endings, a branching narrative, and a gripping plot, it will take you approximately 20 hours to reach the true ending which is well-worth it for those willing to commit. Admittedly some choices can be obscure and frustrating, requiring trial and error likely to put off many players. Though it could have simply been made as a normal 2D visual novel, being completely surrounded by the game enhances immersion dramatically, especially during the game’s battles and emotional interactions.

While this may be my first VR VN, having enjoyed ALTDEUS as much as I did, I highly doubt this will be my last. And it could be your first too!

So, should you play it?

  • You’re looking for a game with a gripping, emotional plot.
  • Piloting a mecha has always been your dream.
  • Are you an anime fan with a PSVR gathering dust? Time to dust it off.
  • A necessary game for fans of J-pop and idol music.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Not a big fan of long dialogue sequences or cutscenes? Stay away from VNs as a whole.
  • Playing through the same sequences may frustrate those with little patience.

A PSVR review code (played on PlayStation 5) was provided for the purpose of this review.

Rez Infinite Review – PS4/PS5

Take a trip through the infinite to experience true synaesthesia.

As most PlayStation 4 and 5 owners will (hopefully) be aware – Sony are encouraging people to do the right thing during the COVID-19 global pandemic by giving out a stack of 11 free games to motivate people around the world to stay safe by staying at home. The best part of this deal is that you don’t even need to be a PlayStation Plus subscriber to take advantage of this generous offer. Amazingly, as long as you add the games to your library while the offer is up, the games will be remain available for you permanently to download and play at any time in the future.

By the time you are reading this you have likely missed out on the first available game, Ratchet and Clank 2016, as this was only available to 31 March 2021. But this is your warning to get off your arse and go add the current batch of 9 games to your library RIGHT NOW…so you can sit back down on your arse to get in some quality gaming. Even if you don’t currently have access to a PSVR headset, there is literally no reason to not add the VR only games including the first appearance of the lovable PS5 mascot Astro Bot in Astro Bot Rescue Mission (a great game in its own right).

In addition to the aforementioned Ratchet and Clank 2016 there are some absolute winners here in Sony’s offering that deserve your attention. The survival indie classic Subnautica, atmospheric mystery/puzzler The Witness and bullet-hell rouge-like dungeon-crawler Enter the Gungeon are all high-quality games that have scored well with both critics and player communities alike. Even more crazily, from 19 April 2021 the game-of-the-generation contender Horizon Zero Dawn will also be FREE to download – and that is the ‘Complete Edition’ with additional DLC included!

But what I’m here today to tell you is that there is a better game on the free list. A game that in my mind is an outright classic across the entire history of video games. Yes, a game that is better than Ratchet and Clank, better than Subnautica and BETTER THAN HORIZON ZERO DAWN (I said it)- and that game is Rez Infinite.

Play at Home 2021 update: 10 free games to download this Spring
It is the first game on the list. Sony knows what’s up.

I should clarify that Rez Infinite is not the type of game that everyone will enjoy. The ‘on-rails shooter’ genre died out a long time ago as technology passed it by. But Rez it is a truly unique gaming experience that makes the most of the human senses of sight, hearing and touch to invite the player to enter the trance-like state known as ‘flow’ more than anything else this lifelong gamer has had the pleasure of playing.

Rez was originally released on the Sega Dreamcast and PS2 in Japan in November 2001, with western releases following on those consoles through early 2002. The original game saw an HD remaster release in January 2008 that was only available on the Xbox 360.

The version now available as part of the Play at Home package is the fully updated PlayStation 4 release ‘Rez Infinite’, which includes full PlayStation VR compatibility and a whole new game area created specifically for the Rez Infinite version that provides a whole new way of playing the game while also making the most of current technology of Unreal Engine 4. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to PSVR (or Oculus, where Rez Infinite is also playable) so I can’t provide comment on that mode of play. But I can say that when I do eventually enter the VR world, Rez Infinite will be the first thing I play.

PLOT

The plot of Rez is as bare bones as you can get. Set in the near future, an online network known as “K Project” is created to manage the massive amounts of data through the power of an AI called Eden. As you might guess, the AI is unable to understand the evil and corruption of the human race and begins to doubt its purpose and existence. Rather than going all Skynet, Eden escapes to the depths of cyberspace and shuts down. You play as a hacker attempting to ‘rescue’ Eden from digital infection (viruses) and wake her to fulfil her role in helping humanity.

…Lets be honest, you aren’t playing Rez for the Plot.

What does it want? To stop you moving forward. Why? I dunno…

GAMEPLAY

The simple controls of Rez have not been changed over the past 20 years. The left stick moves the small targeting reticule around the screen, when over your target you press X to shoot a single shot, or hold X to charge up to 8 shots across up to 8 separate targets. All shots ‘home’ in on your enemies or powerups, but don’t think that makes the game easy. This system comes with an inbuilt risk/reward play style. If you always try and charge to the maximum 8 shots then you might not have time to get another shot out to hit that newly spawned projectile coming your way. However, the process of charging is much faster than mashing out 8 individual shots, especially for the enemies that take multiple hits – some more than 8.

Locked on and charging up.

Through each level you may be lucky enough to pick up ‘Overdrive’ charges. Overdrive charges are your typical ‘bomb’ attack that will take out everything on the screen for about 5 seconds. You can hold up to 4 Overdrive charges at once, and there are some sections of the game where you will absolutely need these if you want to avoid taking a hit.

Old-school controls come with old school difficulty. There are no gameplay difficulty settings available here to make things easier for you. Starting from Area 1 your avatar will be level 1, meaning you can take a maximum of two hits. As you play through the game and shoot down your enemies, they will occasionally drop ‘progress nodes’. Collecting 8 progress nodes will allow your avatar to level up to a maximum of level 5, with each level allowing you to take another hit before dying.

Sometimes the enemy itself is the least of your problems.

There are 5 Areas in the base game each with its own unique boss. Each boss battle actually comes in three difficulty levels (Mega, Giga and Tera) which are based on your performance though the Area – the game adjusts somewhat to your skill level in terms of boss difficulty, though the easier ‘Mega’ bosses can still pack a punch. The Bosses are definitely a highlight of the game and challenge you while never feeling unfair.

Area 1 boss battle. Form of: psychedelic disco octopus.

On completion of the base game and reaching specific score ratings, you will unlock additional game modes such as boss rush and score attack. It will take new players, particularly those new to this sub-genre of games, multiple attempts to even finish the areas beyond Area 1, and even longer to get ‘100%’ completion ratings. At its core, like any shooter, Rez is an exercise in pattern recognition, memory, and visual awareness. The more you play the better you get, and the more of this magnificent title you get to experience.

The addition of ‘Area X’ to the PlayStation 4 version provides a new way to play Rez. Not only are the visuals and audio massively upgraded (even beyond the HD update), but you are no longer confined to the one-directional ‘on-rails’ control scheme, and can now rotate in full 360 degrees. There was clearly a lot of love put into the latest update to the team, and Area X almost feels like a sequel in terms of quality.

VISUALS/DESIGN/SOUND

THIS is where Rez truly shines. For this title it is impossible to separate visuals, design and sound due to the way they are so intricately intertwined. Furthermore, every element of the gameplay builds upon the core focus the game – to immerse you in the sights and sounds of Rez.

At the start of each Area the soundtrack, sound effects and visuals are minimal. As you progress each button you press, each shot that you fire and each enemy that you destroy builds upon the soundscape and atmosphere. Each Area contains 10 sections known as ‘Layers’. Cracking each progressive layer of security will further enhance the sound and visual experience of the Area, always for the better.

Unlocking the next layer, unlocking the beats.

What starts as the occasional snare drum hit and synth chord evolves as you play into a full-blown tune. And I mean TUNE. New instruments can be added to the soundtrack, the additional sounds you trigger when shooting enemies will change and the wire-frame visuals will twist and morph from simple lines into pulsating pyramids, forests and temples. All of the tracks are electronic music and that might not be your jam. But if you like a lick of EDM, a dash of Drum and Bass, or a sliver of psy-trance – this game is for you.

I find myself uncontrollably becoming a member of the Night at the Roxbury crew so often when playing Rez that I fear I will wake up the next day needing a solid physiotherapy session.

See the source image


Each of the core game’s 5 Areas and Area X contain a discrete audio-visual experience. Effectively giving you the feeling that you are inside a computer. Think along the lines of Tron…has anybody seen the movie Tron?

The pure sense of synaesthesia is most apparent the in the original Rez’s breathtaking final Area. It is one of my favourite levels in all of video games and it deserves to be preserved in an art gallery for future generations.

CONCLUSION

Rez Infinite is not a new game. It is a remastered version of a game from 20 years ago that was pretty much the swansong of its genre.

It is a niche retro experience that in all honesty is not for everyone. It can, at times, be brutally difficult. But if you enjoy a great shooter, if you are an audio-visual buff, or if anything said above piques your interest in the slightest, I urge you to give Rez Infinite a try.

Rez Infinite is simply the pinnacle of the rail shooter genre.

So, why should you play it?

  • Electronic music is your thing
  • You want to experience unmatched audio-visual synaesthesia
  • Um, its FREE

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  •  …uh, maybe if you don’t own (or have access to) a PS4 or PS5

People, its FREE.

The current Play at Home selection of 9 games, including Rez Infinite, will be free right through to 22 April 2021, so what the hell are you waiting for?!

Note: I own this game on PS2 and I also paid for the Rez Infinite version loooong before the Play at Home games were announced.