The Watchlist: Fara & The Eye of Darkness

19th January 2016 Cat: Uncategorized with No Comments »

Title: Fara & The Eye of Darkness
Developer: Spaceboy Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
In development

A roguelike with a card-based spell/combat system

Fara & The Eye of Darkness is an upcoming action roguelike that combines fast-paced arena combat with deck-building/card game mechanics, as you face fierce enemies with an arsenal of powerful spells.
As the titular demon witch, you’re determined to cure your world of an insidious corruption that’s twisting the good animals and inhabitants into aggressive monsters. To defeat this evil and her malevolent siblings, Fara must use an expansive array of spells, ranging from speedy dashes and devastating energy blasts that scar the battleground as they barrel through enemies to fiery sprays and crackling bursts of magic that strike multiple foes at once. 
Enemy encounters transports you to smaller arenas that truly test your agility and smart use of the cards in hand. Between fights, you’ll explore a procedural overworld filled with towns, shops, and NPCs, and building your deck from defeated enemies, shops, and looting chests throughout the world.
Fara & The Eye of Darkness is still quite early in development, and is expected to release sometime next year. You can find more spell GIFs and follow the game’s progress on Twitter.

PC Review #138: Oxenfree

17th January 2016 Cat: Uncategorized with No Comments »

Title: Oxenfree
Developer: Night School Studios
Platforms: PC, Mac, Xbox One
Price: $19.99

A group of teenagers. A weird crazy adventure. Otherworldly happenings. From E,T, and The Goonies to more recently Super 8, it’s a story told quite a few times in film. Oxenfree continues that tradition, telling the story of five friends, a mysterious island, and malevolent forces.

Oxenfree is a narrative-driven adventure game about Alex, a teenager still suffering from a great loss, and a group of other seniors spending the night on Edwards Island: step-brother Jonas, friend Ren, quiet Nona, and “mean-girl” Clarissa. It’s a long-honored tradition in the community, hanging out on the beach, by the bonfire, drinking. But emotional turmoil and burgeoning relationships all bubble beneath the fun and small talk, and it’s your dialogue choices that can make or break friendships, build or shatter trust, among more life-threatening consequences.

The bonfire drinking and games of truth or slap soon morph into a life-and-death struggle to escape the island when insidious supernatural forces are awakened. The story of Oxenfree is best experienced as blind as possible, so I won’t delve into the specifics, but it’s a gripping tale of coming-of-age and supernatural horror.

You won’t find puzzles in Oxenfree, besides using Alex’s radio to tune into different frequencies, nor moments of fast-paced action. Oxenfree is a game about atmospheric exploration and dialogue, and it absolutely excels. The landscape of Edwards Island is one of quaint shops, of colorful forests tinged brown and yellow from the autumn weather, of sheer sea-side cliffs and dank caves, of abandoned buildings holding chilling secrets. The place is as much as character in Oxenfree as Alex and the other teens, and a joy to explore.

And every moment of exploration is accompanied by some of the most natural likable dialogue I’ve heard in a game. Natural not just in tone and cadence, but in execution. Oxenfree evolves the choice-driven narrative genre popularized by Telltale by adopting a walk-and-talk pacing, letting you choose dialogue while on the move or in the midst of other actions. From trying to rationalize terrifying occurrences to making jokes and revealing hurtful secrets, the choices never feel like the mechanical good/bad/neutral options of other games, but natural responses to the situations.

Those situations are tinged with menace and unnerving horror. Oxenfree never resorts to jump scares or gore to be scary; instead it builds an atmosphere of dread and unease, through weird scenarios, excellent sound design, and visual aberrations that morph and contort the soft inviting aesthetic. Like a Stephen King novel or Poltergeist, the horror comes from seeing these normal characters you’re invested in facing cruel ruthless evil.

Oxenfree’s story ranges from four to seven hours, varying based on how much you explore the island and its secrets. While I typically play these choice-driven narrative games only once, I’m compelled to play Oxenfree again. It was a story I didn’t want to end, with characters I liked, and I’m excited to dive in again and see how the story can change with different choices.

Oxenfree is available on Steam, Humble, and Xbox One. A PS4 version is releasing later this year.