Robolenin’s Rising Storm Review

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I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear your console wars over the sound of how awesome PC gaming is.

 

It’s really hard to do a review of Tripwire Interactive’s Rising Storm. Mainly because at any point that I could be writing the review, I could instead be playing the damn game. That being said, Rising Storm is a standalone conversion of Tripwire’s Red Orchestra 2 and puts players in the shoes of soldiers on either side of WWII’s Pacific campaign. The WWIIFPS genre has been left by the wayside in the last few years with Medal of Honor a distant memory and Call of Duty well and truly advanced to the modern age. You couldn’t be blamed for thinking that there was no new ground left to cover in WWII, but this is where you’d be wrong. Tripwire haven’t just succeeded in revisiting the WWII genre, but has revolutionized it with some clever gameplay mechanics and a clearly visible passion for the source material. The result is the most compelling FPS experience in recent memory and something that eclipses all the glitz and glamour of triple-A titles (I’m looking at you, Battlefield 4) with nothing more than a little courage and faith in their playerbase.

 

Rising Storm bills itself as an asymmetrical team based shooter. The American weaponry totally eclipses the power, accuracy and rate of fire of the Japanese armory. Instead, balance is achieved through clever level design and a ticket based re-spawn system that should be familiar to most FPS players. For the Japanese to achieve victory, communication is key. Luckily a smartly integrated voice chat system allows such cooperation without the aid of Teamspeak or other third party apps. Japanese players are able to bayonet charge en masse with the “banzai” ability which suppresses an enemy’s ability to aim (representing the terror of being charged by a horde of screaming Japanese soldiers) relative to distance and the amount of Japanese players simultaneously activating that ability. The mechanic is genius because it not only helps to close the power gap between the American and Japanese weaponry, but encourages gameplay that mirrors the Japanese swarm tactics of the Pacific campaign. A player may choose to be any number of roles on both of the teams, including commanders, (with the ability to launch varied artillery strikes) squad leaders (who act as mobile spawn-points) and the squad members themselves. A linchpin of the authenticity here is that there are only a certain amount of specialized weapons available. For example an American squad may only have (for example) one team leader, one flamethrower, one machine gunner and two automatic riflemen, with the other squaddies carrying standard infantry rifles. This may immediately seem off putting to some players, but the results are fantastic. Instead of an entire team being composed of snipers, the role system means that players act according to the weapons they’re equipped with and require cooperation with other specialized player classes to achieve their objectives. For example, machine gunners are best suited to cover advancing riflemen and assault troops, flamethrowers aught to advance safely behind infantry to assist clearing out fortifications et cetera. 

 

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Running on the Unreal engine, Rising Storm is as beautiful as it is terrifying.

The game runs beautifully and there are a whole host of system options so you can optimize your performance to your rig. The game itself looks gorgeous, with cratered beacheads, deep jungles and small townships that seem so authentic you need to swat away the mosquitoes. The sound design is also top notch, gun enthusiasts will love the satisfying clanks and bangs of all the weaponry and battlefields feel very much alive with characters yelling for ammo, support or screaming in agony. Tripwire have outdone themselves in creating a vivid brutal hellscape that won’t force you to buy a new PC just to experience it.

There’s honestly a lot to love here with Rising Storm. In an era of shooters obsessed with ‘player choice’ (aka, dicking around with sniper classes) and accessibility (being virtually immune to bullets) the strict hierarchical structure of the classes and brutal realism have created something really special. It forces players to become a small part of something more, rather than a one man army, and in doing so creates real feelings of solidarity and team-mindedness with your fellow soldiers. I was a big fan of Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad, and I’m pleased that Rising Storm has only added to the immersive, realistic gameplay that I came to love with that title. There are some moments, like defending against an American assault as a Japanese commander, watching my comrades fall around me, wildly shooting my sidearm while calling in a suicidal artillery strike on the same position, that will stay with me for a long time. 

Tripwire should be bloody proud of the job they’ve done here. Rising Storm forces you to think, adapt and cooperate in a way that, while encompassing a steep learning curve, has an absurdly gratifying payoff. Where its FPS contemporaries have aimed for top-shelf-big-dollar accessibility, Rising Storm never makes you feel like it’s talking down to you, something I feel is losing it’s place in an increasingly ‘casual’ gaming market. Oh, and did I mention it’s selling for an insanely modest twenty bucks on steam? 

If you like FPS or WWII then you really owe it to yourself to check out Rising Storm. There’s honestly so much to love here and we as gamers need to send a message to developers to think smarter, not necessarily bigger and shinier. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and take this hill. BANZAI!

The short version; Rising Storm gets 4.5 Browning Automatic Rifles out of 5.

 

 

Robolenin Reviews; Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

A not-so-long review about a galaxy far, far away.

I’m a huge Star Wars fan. Well, a fan of the original trilogy anyway. So you can understand how excited I was to play a tabletop miniatures game revolving around the iconic space-battles of the original three movies. To be honest, it’s about damn time we gamers got to hop back into the cockpits of our favorite starfighters. The last X-Wing title for PC, X-Wing Alliance is approaching its 15th birthday. 2003’s Rogue Squadron and 2006’s Empire at War did little but whet our appetites for a fully fledged X-Wing adventure.

So that brings us back to the present day and Fantasy Flight’s epically awesome X-Wing Miniatures Game. To attribute the game’s success exclusively to fan fervor would belittle the fantastic job that Fantasy Flight have done here. At once accessible, but with the potential for incredible strategic depth, X-Wing has something to offer to new and old Star Wars fans alike. I also expect that the title will introduce a lot of new people to the joys of tabletop war gaming. It’s quicker, easier and more seductive than ever before.

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So what’s so great about X-Wing specifically? Well for one thing you’re not going to have to pawn your organs on the international black market just to afford a starting force *cough, Games Workshop, cough.* Nor are you going to have to spend countless hours assembling and painting the miniatures. Everything that comes in the starter set (which I picked up for about $60AUD from a local game-store [buy local, people]) is ready to be used within minutes. You’ll get one X-Wing model, two Tie Fighter models, a rule book and all the assorted dice, bits and pieces that you’ll need. Fantasy Flight have also put a comprehensive video tutorial on Youtube for all of you audio/visual learners out there.

So how does the game play? Extremely well! After choosing your allegiance (handy hint, always be yourself, unless you can be Imperial, then always play Imperial) your ships, pilots and loadouts it’s time to deploy your forces and get straight into the action. A typical game of X-Wing is composed of a number of turns broken up into two distinct phases; the movement and action phase followed by the shooting or combat phase. Among other statistics, each pilot has an initiative value which represents a pilot’s skill and reflexes. At the start of the turn, players secretly choose what movements their pilots will perform by selecting an option from ship specific dials included in the box. In ascending pilot skill order, the dials are uncovered one-by-one and the ships perform the designated moves.

Luke reveals his move of a gentle 2" to the left and prepares to pull in behind his quarry.
Luke reveals his move of a gentle 2″ to the left and prepares to pull in behind his quarry.

In the subsequent shooting phase, pilots fire in descending initiative order; an eloquent system representing a skilled pilot’s ability to react to their opponent’s movements while firing first. Damage is resolved by rolling a number of attack or defense dice equal to the attack or defense value displayed on the pilot’s profile. If the number of ‘hit’ results outnumbers the amount of ‘evade’ results, the ship suffers damage. There are a number of other factors that come into play too like shields, critical hits, focus actions, evades, boosts, barrel rolls and special weapons (photon torpedoes, anyone?) but you’ll just have to play the game yourself to learn more!

The models themselves are excellent, the paint-jobs are immaculate and the detail on most of the models is incredible. The Fantasy Flight team were given unrestricted access to the original models produced by Lucasfilm for the movies. And it shows. The game feels authentically Star Wars; much more so than the newest trilogy of films. It’s a delight to realize my childhood dream of crushing Rebel scum with Lord Vader, flanked by a couple of Tie Fighters (which are better ships than any Rebel fighters; flame on, see my reasoning in this review’s sister article.) By no means is X-Wing limited to Ties and X-Wings; the full roster of Rebel and Imperial ships are here (X, Y, A, B wings, Tie Fighters, Tie Advanced and Tie Interceptors) as well as a host of special ships and characters (Bobba Fett’s Slave I and Solo’s Millennium Falcon being the notable inclusions.) These additional releases are aptly billed as ‘expansion packs’ and include multiple pilots (do you prefer Han and Chewie or Lando and Nien Nunb?) as well as general upgrade cards that are compatible with the rest of your fleet.

Never tell me the odds!
Never tell me the odds!

If you call yourself a Star Wars fan or enjoy the thrill of tabletop games you owe it to yourself to check out X-Wing. 

The short version; Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game gets a score of five dysfunctional father-son relationships out of five. The force is strong with this one.

Robolenin’s Random Access Memories Review

First, a brief history.

It’s been a long wait for Daft Punk fans. I can remember when I timidly stalked my local record store as a thirteen year-old, hunting for the Discovery album. Discovery drew me in with its bright anime aesthetic, but opened me up to a world of music. After devouring Homework, Daft Punk’s seminal first album, it was a four year wait before we saw the two robots return with the 2005’s divisive Human After All. Little known fact; the profits from Human After All went into completing Daft Punk’s cinematic debut, Electroma, a psychedelic and terrifying journey into existentialism (which you should go and see, now). In 2007, the Alive album mixed, mashed and modernized the entire Daft Punk back catalogue into a wonderful orgy of electrogroove. Finally, there was the 2010 Tron Legacy soundtrack. Which despite the constraints of being a film score, had moments of true greatness (and an amazing remix of Solar Sailor by Pretty Lights).

So that pretty much brings us up to the modern day and the release of Random Access Memories. Was the album a masterclass in media saturation? Yes. Did it kind of suck to be drip fed Get Lucky in such measured portions that I was sick of it by the time the single dropped? Yes to that too. Does the album suffer from any of this?

Hell no.

The work here is of such a high standard that it demands to be considered in and of itself. I was a little worried coming into the thing that the large roster of guest contributions would fragment the album thematically, however this is not the case. Daft Punk have managed to synergise all of their collaborators and the eclectic musical signatures that come with them into an epic odyssey of sound. In Giorgio by Moroder, Giorgio recounts his vision of creating a musical journey integrating the sounds of the fifties, sixties and seventies. Similarly, Random Access Memories takes the seventies, eighties, Daft Punk’s style of the nineties and naughties and turns it all into a sound of the future. There are some pumping, funk infused disco numbers (reminiscent of Breakbot) to be found in Give Life Back to Music and Lose Yourself to Dance. And some surprisingly emotional material in the slow jam The Game of Love and Instant Crush. There’s honestly a lot to be found here for music fans, Touch is a ripper eight minute odyssey that absolutely smacks of David Bowie and Freddie Mercury in the most delicious of ways. Even Get Lucky finds some greater meaning here, following and musically echoing Touch in a way that contextualizes the potentially hedonistic track as just a fragment of our own occasionally hedonistic psyches. The epic Contact rounds out the roster, deviating from Daft Punk’s normal focus on man/machine duality and turning our eyes skyward, asking one of the biggest questions in mankind’s repertoire of curiosity, namely are we alone in the universe?

All in all I’m pretty damn impressed with the album. It was a brave step to deviate from the normal ‘techno’ wizardry that Daft Punk have been known for, and that gets mad props from me. It’s exciting to think about the fallout from such a massive funk injection in the popular consciousness. Can we get a funky disco renaissance? Because that would be pretty sweet.

This album made me boogie, this album made me cry, this album gave me shivers, this album made me think. The only thing I could criticize is that there wasn’t nearly enough Chilly Gonzales. Because Chilly is awesome. That’s just a minor quibble however; to be able to see the group that got me into music evolve so boldly is all I could have ever asked for.

The short version;

Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories gets four out of five advertisement spots on SNL.