Saturday, April 17, 2021

Oddworld: Soulstorm Review – A NEGATIVE Batch Of Brew

Playing Oddworld: Soulstorm is as arduous as Abe’s quest to liberate his Mudoken brethren from slavery. Each step is a supreme test of patience as you methodically guide your followers through challenging hazards, sweating over the fact that one slip-up could unravel all your effort. If you enjoy putting up with that old-school challenge, you might love this journey. However, if you’re a newcomer or a fan that believes this style of platformer hasn’t aged very well, turn back now. Soulstorm doesn’t do enough to modernize the series’ tedious gameplay, and a litany of severe technical hiccups spoil Abe’s attempted comeback. A reimagining of Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, Soulstorm’s gameplay remains largely the same: you recruit and guide followers through 2D platforming stages littered with dangers. As charming as the classic Oddworld games are, they can be frustratingly difficult and that hasn’t changed much in Soulstorm. Most Slig enemies and other hazards mow Abe down instantly, and I was infuriated by how little wiggle room I had to correct course when things went sideways. Abe drops so fast that it makes the health meter seem like a cruel tease. While playing Soulstorm, I often felt like I was walking on eggshells because of that high price of failure, retracing every step, re-recruiting every Mudokon, and carefully guiding them through a gauntlet of foes is soul-crushing when it all falls apart in seconds. Dying to unexpected perils, like being suddenly gunned down by off-screen enemies, feels cheap and happens way too often. A crafting system serves as Soulstorm’s biggest addition, but it doesn’t feel necessary. You must repeatedly gather the same ingredients every time you die (by searching lockers, trash cans, and fallen foes), which wore me down in a hurry after repeatedly replaying certain sections. The crafted tools themselves, like proximity mines, smoke screens, even a flamethrower, do add a welcomed element of flexibility and improvisation to gameplay. Dropping smoke screens to create hiding spots anywhere is nice, but I wished I didn’t have to make these items myself and grew tired of digging around the same spots over and over.   Even when Soulstorm’s difficulty eases up, the gameplay is bland. The action feels largely the same from previous games in the series, and that formula doesn’t evolve significantly beyond the first few hours. Even the more interesting sequences, like facing down a giant mech aboard a speeding train, are far too punishing to be fun. I’m glad that Abe controls better now (he even has a double jump), but the controls still have a mushy unresponsiveness that makes entertaining actions, like possessing Sligs, feel like a hassle. The controls also lead to additional deaths because Abe doesn’t act as swiftly as you need him to, especially during the ill-fitting, overly demanding combat arenas that pit you against waves of baddies while you try to protect fleeing Mudokens. Soulstorm would be a tough recommendation for anyone outside of diehard fans if it performed flawlessly, but I encountered several progress-sabotaging bugs (even after installing the big day-one patch) that should scare off even those players. When I died, Mudokens sometimes failed to respawn alongside me even though my tally indicated they were still alive and under my command. That meant I lost out on turning in followers that I’d spent ages trying to safely liberate, which negatively affected my overall quarma – a vital metric in determining which of the four endings you get.  Abe occasionally gets stuck in environmental geometry, forcing a restart. At one point, I fell into an infinite loop. One escape portal permanently vanished once I reached it, forcing me to abandon followers. A gun in a late-game turret sequence failed to shoot despite working fine in previous segments. After multiple restarts, I randomly discovered that clicking the right stick “fixed” the weapon for some reason, allowing it to fire. I spent over an hour trying to lead a large group of followers through a particularly challenging area, but once I opened the exit door an invisible wall prevented me from moving forward. I was forced to restart this entire, lengthy sequence twice before the exit worked properly. Soulstorm’s gameplay pushed my patience to its limits, but these bugs sent me over the edge and made me nervous every time I started a new level. “What on Earth is going to screw me over this time?” I regularly asked myself. Soulstorm’s faults are a shame because its narrative and presentation brought a smile to my face. Abe and his pals are goofy, delightful underdogs I couldn’t help but root for. The enjoyable story is packed with heart, and the cutscenes look great. I wanted to welcome Abe into a new generation of gaming with open arms, but Soulstorm fails to make a case for why its brand of cinematic platforming works today. In fact, Soulstorm only reaffirmed that Abe’s past adventures are best viewed with rose-colored glasses.
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    destruction allstars

    We’re now into our second month of car-wrecking, platform-leaping action after PS5 exclusive Destruction AllStars made its debut on PlayStation Plus in February. We’ve witnessed first-hand (and been the cause of) the beautiful visual carnage that’s a metal-shredding headline of the game’s 16-player matches. We’ve watched tornados explode vehicles into a cascade of parts, seen superstars parkour around arenas and flow over fast-moving cars, and felt every shunt and crunch thanks to the DualSense wireless controller.  To find out how this all came together, we spoke to its creators, developer Lucid Games and Sony xDev, who gave us a tour under the hood.  Play Video PlayStation Blog: If you had to pinpoint one tech pillar as being the most critical for Destruction AllStars, what is it and why? Colin Berry [Game Director, Lucid Games]: For me, it’s the DualSense controller. It’s enabled us to do some really subtle and nuanced things.  So we’re able to do directional haptics. When you get hit, you’ll see it, but importantly you’ll feel it as well. And we vary the weight of that hit; from big smashes to smaller, subtler scrapes. We put haptics on characters’ footsteps. You’ve got the sound effects, the little pitter patter coming out the speaker, and you’ve got the feeling of the feet.  We were worried it’d be too much, as it’s continual. But when we took it out [during development] to test reactions. Everyone was asking what had happened, asking why they’d gone. It showed it worked; really nuanced, subtle. It’s like when you play a game with a character and there’s no shadows; they don’t feel connected to the world. Put a shadow in and they do. This is like the next step of that. And then the triggers let you feel when your vehicle’s damaged;  the brake feels harder to use. When your vehicle is super damaged, you feel that on the accelerator as well. There’s no resistance when you first start driving. That’s deliberate: we found having resistance all the time was not pleasurable.  John McLaughlin [Senior Producer, XDev]: [PS5] is great in terms of the GPU and CPU. That we can throw all these particles around, throw all these vehicle parts around at a very high resolution. We’re doing real time deformation on vehicles. It’s a good looking game, and I am a graphics man. But the DualSense controller is probably the biggest game changer.  But I have to say, as a man of a certain age, who remembers consoles on cartridge and instant loading it feels great to be kind of back in that ballpark, where you can boot the game up, press the Cross button on the title screen, and then get in the game within a few seconds. It’s quite eye opening.  And that’s not even going into detail on little things like Activity Cards. We use it in the [single player] Challenge Series, but we also use it online. If you want to switch from solo to team modes, you don’t have to be on the main menu. Activity Cards have encouraged me to go back to games when I normally wouldn’t have. It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out for our game and other games as well.  PSB: Did your team speak with other Worldwide Studio developers during development to pool thoughts and ideas on using the DualSense controller?  John: We had a chat with [Astro’s Playroom Creative Director] Nicolas Doucet. He’s always approachable, was always very helpful. He [and his team]  were coming to the end of their dev cycle, because they were wrapping up a bit earlier. So we sent them a build over for them to take a look. They gave a tonne of hints and tips about where and how to use haptics, use it in conjunction with the speaker and the triggers and things like that. I think overall, we got a really compelling control scheme because of that. As Colin said, you really feel when it’s gone.  Any match can have 16 players in the arena. That’s 16 characters and their vehicles, debris and the on-field dangers, event-style lighting and more. Can you touch upon the technical aspects of how the PS5 made this all happen? Colin: We’re very, very fortunate to have a bunch of technical programmers who know what they’re doing. We’re a physics-based game, non-deterministic physics. That means when you collide, things happen but you don’t know what they’ll be. It’s a hard thing to do. But it’s the best way to do this. We wouldn’t be able to do the amount of detail and fidelity in terms of the damage deformation systems without the extra bump that PS5 gives.  Chad Wright [Technical Director]: Lots of CPU and super-fast memory. The PS5 really is a powerhouse and we thankfully haven’t had to compromise much on the initial ambitious goals we set out when designing Destruction AllStars. Core to the experience is the vehicle handling, which is extremely detailed and more complex than you might expect from a more “arcade” style of play, with realistic suspension and tyre-physics modelling that really accentuates the nuances in the grip, drift and feel of the vehicles. Responsiveness is key and we really needed to blend high-speed twitch-like reactions into what essentially is a vehicle brawler. Add to this the need to have highly-detailed damage modelling and collision interactions, with at times extreme deformation that isn’t just at the “render” level but actually feeds back into the visceral feel of the game – all while maintaining a high frame rate. The algorithmic cost of all this is high, but with so much CPU power and excellent data transfer speeds at our fingertips we’re able to distribute the physics simulation across multiple cores and do a lot of work in a comparatively small slice of time. The cars themselves are very highly detailed too, with many damageable parts that can rattle and flap about and detach on-impact. Being able to simulate all of this on top of everything else really adds to the gameplay experience, meaning the players can create some truly memorable moments of carnage with epic pile-ups, cars deforming and exploding into so many parts, wheels and doors bouncing off you as you plough through a field of opponents – we really wanted to create an interactive experience that felt real and wasn’t just smoke and mirrors – PS5 lets us do that. John: And you haven’t just got 16 vehicles. Each vehicle has 200 individual parts that can interact with the world as well. Multiply that by 16, then you add in the 16 complex skeletal characters, then you’ve got all the other cars that are dotted around the world that you need the player to jump into when their ride’s wrecked. So we’re actually doing a tonne of stuff. Then you have the arena with these big spinner blades that can chop cars into pieces and things like that. It’s doing quite a lot. We used Unreal Engine 4 for this game, by the way. That helped us get stuff running really quickly. But yeah, I think from a technical perspective, PS5 offers us a lot of what couldn’t be done on PS4 for sure.  With so much happening on screen in a multiplayer game, what techniques are implemented to enable the game to run at a high frame rate? Chad: This is a very complex problem and there’s a lot we do here, but let’s focus on a couple in the rendering space. The PS5 has an impressive GPU architecture with a great many Compute units. We make full use of this by shifting complicated work that would be traditionally done in vertex and pixel shaders to these specialised Compute units. One area we do this is the visual damage modelling, with vertex deformation and the many layered cosmetic damage effects (scratches, dents, holes etc) being performed in Compute. This greatly reduces the load on the GPU and allows us to maintain a high level of fidelity in our damage representation without compromising model detail in other areas. Was the 16 player count, plus multiple vehicles your goal from the start, or did it organically come about when you saw what PS5 could do?  John: No one knew what PS5 was. We just knew what was coming. So in XDev, we kicked off conversations with a view to have something around launch window. The question was: how good could destruction be on PS5? We started there: how good could damage be? And also: which team could we use? Lucid had a huge arcade heritage. There’s former Studio Liverpool folks, so you’re talking WipEout, F1. Former Bizarre Creations, so Project Gotham Metropolis. You’re talking WRC, Motorstorm, Driveclub. These guys knew cars. And at the start, all the conversation was about the destruction of cars. Then early on, someone asked: “how good would it be if you could get out of the car”?  We didn’t want those drivers to just look like us. We wanted them to have abilities, so we started looking at parkour videos. Stunts in action movies. We wanted the player to feel really vulnerable when they were out of the car, but confident that they had abilities to do cool moves and get out of sticky situations. From that genesis came special abilities – flames, invisibility – all that. That then spawned talk about Hero vehicles.  Colin: It was great using Unreal Engine 4. It just enabled us to get things up and running really quickly. Early on, we were able to try four player games. And it stayed that way for a long time. We knew there were going to be more characters, but four was enough to test things like the mechanics. Back during prototyping, we had a debug ability to spawn a car beside you. That shortcut ultimately became a core gameplay feature as your way to summon the Hero vehicles.  One cool thing happened in development adding slow motion sequence in single player. Being able to see cars explode indirectly benefited the whole game. We could see and examine the smaller details, those 200, 300 parts of a vehicle, it’s interior, the character coming out of the wreck. That closer examination of the game’s model spurred our vehicle team to improve those interiors. The character team, they reworked animations. Introducing slow mo enhanced the game, raised the level of quality, the attention of detail.     The stylish digital cloaking/glitching aesthetic on Shyft’s hero vehicle is very smooth. How is this achieved from a tech perspective?     Chad: Through very talented VFX artists! But seriously, this is certainly a very cool effect and it’s harder than you might think to design an effect that renders something partially invisible while still retaining the look and feel of the thing you’re trying to hide. This particular effect is many layered and uses scene depth and colour buffers to keep it grounded in the world along with some very cool animated shader effects to achieve the final result. The interactive layer is particularly cool and adds a lot to it, with physical impacts and damage from other AllStars abilities causing the cloak to temporarily fail, blending between the base car material and the cloaking effect smoothly in real time. Blending between complex shader layers can be very intensive, but the graphical power of the PS5 makes stuff like this possible and really allows our talented artists to go to town and create truly stunning visuals. All the characters are incredibly well animated, super detailed, both in their intros and while battling it out in the arena. Can you talk a little bit about their creation? John: Our animation director Kristjan will be delighted to hear that. He’s former animation director at Ubisoft, who worked on Assassin’s Creed. So you can kind of see where the kind of level of detail and animation kind of comes from.  We’ve done a lot of motion capture shoots. Down at [performance capture outfit] Audio Motion we got them to pull out the scaffolding; it’s been used for movies, but not a video game. So we are having performers leap from the top of this, like falling off a skyscraper. Lots of stunts, recreating the impact of cars and such. I don’t think people expected that [level of animation] from this type of game. It’s arcade action, but it’s got a level of polish that that you might expect from the likes of Naughty Dog and Santa Monica. I think we’re pushing the PS5 as hard as we can, as hard as we can at this point in time. Because as you know, as we continue to develop we learn more about the system. it’s exciting to see the level of graphical fidelity we’ve got now. But knowing where we’re going to go in the next few years is mind-blowing.  Destruction AllStars is available now to PlayStation Plus subscribers on PS5 until April 5. From April 6 onwards, the game will be purchasable from PlayStation Store in both Standard and Digital Deluxe Editions. You will also be able to pick up a physical Blu-ray disc version of the game from April 7 onwards at selected retailers in selected markets. Please check your local store for pricing and availability. 

    This week on Destruction AllStars: Bluefang Challenge Series and Season 1 sneak peek

    Launching Destruction AllStars has been an amazing experience for the team at Lucid. We’re truly humbled by the community’s reception to the game and are extremely grateful for all the support we’ve been seeing on social media.  It’s thanks to the community that some of our first patches and hotfixes have been able to target and improve certain areas of the game, as well as improving our direction on future patches. Today, we wanted to run through our progress since launch as well as revealing more about the road ahead for Destruction AllStars, including our first season of content! We’ve been responding to a wide range of community feedback around the game as fast as we can, some of the highlights of these changes include being able to earn Destruction Points from in-game challenges, adding new server regions and adding higher rarity character skins for you to further personalise your AllStars. Community feedback is important to Destruction AllStars as we’re committed to building a game that you’re excited to play, week on week.  In our last blog post, we outlined the new content coming to the game in the form of featured playlists. Over the next few months, we’ll be changing up the rules a little on our core game modes and inviting players to try a new perspective during online matches. Our first featured playlist, Mayhem 8v8, went live last week and we’ve been listening to everyone’s thoughts and impressions of the game mode whilst jumping in for a few games ourselves. Stockpile 4v4 is our next featured playlist on the horizon and we’re eager to see how you’ll all tackle the smaller, more focused team size when trying to maintain control of your banks. Alongside our featured playlists, we’re still delivering brand new content each and every month. These include our Challenge Series which are single player experiences based around an AllStar and their Rival. They offer a small cinematic experience along with some gameplay challenges to earn some awesome cosmetics! You can learn more about our Challenge Series in one of our other blog posts. Bluefang’s Challenge Series has just gone live. It’s time to explore more about his backstory and motivations for competing in Destruction AllStars whilst demolishing your way through the arena in his Hero Vehicle, Shredder. Face off against Bluefang’s Rival, Angelo Avello, in seven gameplay challenges and earn exclusive cosmetics including an epic skin and emote. Be sure to let us know which AllStar you’d like to see featured in a Challenge Series in the future. Oh, and we’re hosting a Double XP Weekend starting this Friday. It’s a great chance to earn AllStar Coins and grab some of our Heroic or Legendary skins. Introducing Seasons in Destruction AllStars Destruction AllStars was built from the ground up to deliver content to the community at regular points throughout the year. We knew that we’d always want to be adding to the game and giving you more things to do whilst keeping old game modes fresh and interesting. To achieve this, we’ll be introducing Seasons into Destruction AllStars, starting with Season One: Hotshots. Our first season is all about AllStars who want to be the best of the best, Hotshots who are always headline news or blowing up on social media. To give you an idea of what you can expect from this season, along with future seasons, we wanted to give you a quick rundown of what’s coming your way. We view seasons as a way to permanently enhance Destruction AllStars and leave long-lasting additions for everyone to enjoy, no matter when they choose to pick up the game. We can’t talk about everything just yet, but hopefully there’s enough in here to get you excited about our first season. Competitive Mode We’ll be taking the first steps towards introducing a competitive mode, often referred to as ranked by the community, in Season One! Competitive mode in Destruction AllStars is called Blitz and it’s a brand new game mode, built from the ground up for a competitive experience. It will feature a team-based structure of three players per team and four teams per match (or to simplify: 3v3v3v3). We want to take the time to properly introduce you to this brand new game mode so expect another update with a deeper dive into competitive mode in the future. Battle Pass We’ll be adding a Battle Pass to Destruction AllStars in Season One. As you rank up your Battle Pass, you’ll earn exclusive cosmetic content only available in the current season. With a free tier and a premium tier, you’ll be earning rewards no matter your preference. Photo Mode We’ve seen some fantastic stuff being shared on social media from all the Mayhem that’s been unfolding in the arena. It’s been a great example of the screenshot and sharing tools on the PS5 and we want to give you even more tools to really capture the carnage. Photo Mode will be coming to Destruction AllStars. In single-player modes, you can pause the game at any time and enter a free camera around the arena. The Hotshots behind the camera know how to get a perfect angle on a crash or a vault off a wall and show some personality with a variety of stickers and filters. New AllStar You might have spotted a sneaky teaser in the roadmap above… Hotshots will be adding our first new AllStar to the roster since the game’s launch. We want to wait just a little bit longer to give them a proper introduction and give you a full preview of their Hero Vehicle and abilities whilst answering the questions of who they are and what they’re hoping to achieve this season. That’s just an introduction to our first season in Destruction AllStars. We’re really excited to be talking about the future of the game and what we’ve got in store for you. But as with all of the topics above, we’ll be back with another blog post in the future to really dig deeper into all of these brand new features and more! Digital Deluxe Edition Along with the previous announcement of our Standard Edition, we’re thrilled to announce a Digital Deluxe Edition. This will include: 1100 Destruction Points Lupita Character and Vehicle Skin Lupita Emote Profile banner set In game Avatars set Digital Artbook 8x Challenge Series Both the Standard and Digital Deluxe Edition will be available for purchase from April 6.

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