Titan Souls – Review

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We covered the mechanics of Titan Souls and the history of its conception in our preview back in March. At that point, we were able to play the introductory levels and get a feel for the art style in the game, the simplicity in its controls and also a great sense of the inspirations behind it. This was also the demo that was released to play so you have all probably played it by now.

A brief reminder, Titan Souls is an independent game by new studio Acidnerve, a collection of three programmers who rose to the challenge Ludum Dare game jam with the theme “You Only Get One.” As such both you, and the bosses have only one hit. You must attack and kill a series of different bosses across the world using your one and only weapon – A bow and arrow. Keeping with the theme, you only get one arrow, which can be magically recalled back to you or you can pick it up. One you’ve tackled a Titan, you earn his soul through some awesome floating spirit absorption.

tsr2Now I’ve played the whole thing, I’ve accrued over 200 deaths in the mission to collect all of the Titan Souls and there are things I love and things that frustrate me. But firstly, a few disclaimers:

Whilst I possess a working knowledge of games like Shadow of the Colossus, I haven’t actually played the game. The game will of course feel like Shadow of the Colossus at times because it’s inspired by it, but I cannot make those connections like other reviews have. I was also playing this on a Mac with a PS4 controller. There were also things that irritated me that I couldn’t put my finger on until I saw a YouTuber play it and nail exactly what I was thinking so credit will be due.

We’ve covered the control method quite extensively in that there are three controls that all work very well and are suitably challenging to the boss battles. I have to say that the PS4 controller feels pretty natural but I also kept using different buttons for my arrow because I could. I’d have quite like a singular trigger button for the arrow so I always knew where it was. But that’s probably more due to my calamitous fingers failing to hold the PS4 pad between multiple deaths.

Death is something that obviously occurs often and as such, re-spawning also occurs often but rather frustratingly distant from the battle you just had. This is something that YouTuber PyroPuncher pointed out in his playthrough and I completely agree. The sizes of the areas are pretty huge and it can take a while to get back to the boss. I mean, yes it’s only about 10-20 seconds but when you are in the zone and building up a rhythm of playing and fighting, even that gap can remove you from it.

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The size of the world is something that I’m a tiny bit critical of. I love it for reasons that I will come on to but sometimes it can be quite empty and long especially if you’ve already explored and want to have a change of pace between areas. It can take a long time and sometimes the world feels like it could have done with a little more refinement. There are some gorgeous chasms and excellent abandoned ruins littered across the lands but sometimes you do get to bits with repetitive rock textures and you just wonder what else would have looked really cool there. With that you then get the issue of the lack of direction. Nothing is telling you what to do or where to go. This is, for me, an excellent thing for such a small game because you end up discovering things as if you were discovering them in reality. But I know that some people would have loved a map, or a little arrow pointing you in a general area and that so much unfettered freedom can irk gamers that just want to get on with it.

On the flip side, the massive world does two things: 1) It looks absolutely beautiful. Titan Souls have five areas or biomes if you will. You have your beginning ancient civilization ruin, you then get a fantastically expansive plaza of that civilization, with a few buildings still standing for Titan’s but everywhere else succumbed to entropy and overgrowth. You have a firey chasm, an underworld of lava and volcanic rock, which also seems to have been conquered by the previous occupants. You have a mystical forest that is bent on confusing your sense of direction and you have my favourite, the magnificent snow biome with glaciers, big snow boulders, bridges over gaping chasms and the occasional torch flame that burns longer than the life that used it. All of this is beautifully realised in the 16-bit art style and, save using photorealism and AAA RPG graphics, it is the prefect style for the game and for the atheistic it conveys. We’ve mentioned the links to Pokemon, Zelda and others in our preview and it does take inspiration from all the best parts of those franchise’s world designs.

2) It is chillingly empty. Games like this are exquisitely designed in a conservative way. It’s not minimalist or lazy but it is purposefully and effectively constructed to evoke the sense of lonliness. It is stark to the point of melancholy, reflecting those that have died before you in their attempt to take the souls and that have left nothing. There are points that, as I’ve said, could be refined to make the gameplay a little bit more of a smoother experience but overall it projects the immortality that guards the world exactly for what it is… A curse.

One thing that really helps this lonliness is the music, which is quite simply wonderful. It is strict in its usage, hyping up for battles with added distorted guitar and rhythmic beats. But for the rest of the map it can be very stark but evocative when it hits. A gust of wind blows and a sad flute melody plays. It reminds me a lot of some of the more solitary moments of The Wind Waker, but it is gorgeous with its Asian inspired sounds and instruments. I highly recommend that you check out Devolver Digital’s SoundCloud page anyway but you’ll find some of Titan Souls music there.

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Then there are the Titans themselves. Some range from the incredibly to the absolutely crazy. They all have proper names, unlike the “Heart-Glob” I dubbed previously, but they also have a very unique personality. Everything from the Treasure Chest that is “Avarice – The Manifestation of Greed” to the rolling ball of lava that is “Rol-Qayin – The Forged Creation of Gol-Qayin” is beautifully realised and enjoyably independent of other Titans in looks and strategy. Yes you’ll get annoyed with many deaths but that does not dampen the enjoyment.

However, you get the feeling that something isn’t right with what you are doing. It isn’t anywhere near what Shadow of the Colossus does in the destruction of beauty but there is something that feels like a trap. Like theses were all once adventurers like yourself and you’re killing something ancient and beautiful. There is one particular Titan that I didn’t want to kill. It is not often that games do this but this certain part of the game made me very sad. Not to the level of sad that I got when Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons began to reach its climax but it made me question everything I was doing in the game and why.

This to me is the greatest achievement of Titan Souls because it has absolutely no right to make you feel that way. There’s no story laid on for you to discover. You only get the indecipherable text for each Titan. You don’t know the reason why your character is doing it. But you don’t really care because its an independent game without the big budget, it looks quaint and it doesn’t cost a lot so it’ll be a challenging little thing to play. Then the game hits you like that and you realise that whilst this was originally a game made overnight by three incredibly talented individuals, it definitely transcends its origin story to become a very personal game to you.

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Titan Souls is an amazing product of a few things that make gaming great. It has that wonderful element of fantasy and interactive quality that no other medium can give in making you feel alone in a big dangerous world. It showcases what talent this country has in programming and what people can do in such a small amount of time. But mostly, it is an enjoyable game with simple controls and an interesting challenge to players and people like me who overthink about things.

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– Wonderful bosses with excellent unique designs/personalities

– Gripping musical cues and brilliant atmosphere

– The art and world design is expertly crafted to be evocative

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[tab title =”Bad Points”]

– Distances between bosses and repsawning points can be a bit long

– World is sometimes too big, especially if you’re exploring.

– Lack of direction may frustrate some.

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[tab title =”Why an 8?”]

I rate any game that can cut through my steely hardened shell of emotion that 31 years of being alive, being a gamer and being a creative person who is unafraid to share his work, has built up. The game is a beautifully solitary experience that provides enough of a challenge despite its simple premise and controls, its music is perfect for the art style and the loneliness the game brings to your character and there is a point that it cut through me right to the little bit of phantom sad muscle just above your diaphragm. It may be a bit hard for some but its so easily accessible and endearing, so stick with it.

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F1 2015 – Preview

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The rain beats down heavily over Marina Bay. The flood lights are reflected, shimmering in the pools on the tarmac occasionally splashed with colour from the lights of ferris wheel. You’re thrashing through the streets, skating as you hit the puddles, the floor of your V6 turbo-charged hybrid monster scratching against the contours of the tarmac where it rises above the water. The raspy and angry sound of the 600 BHP engine roaring between the concrete barriers and bouncing under the stands as you enter the final chicane. It sounds like a petulant child as you carefully feather the throttle, taking every effort of your concentration not to squirm the misbehaving rear in to the wall, and screams with great freedom as the straight appears and you floor it, feeding petrol and recovered kinetic energy in to one last hurrah before crossing the line and taking the chequered flag… In 14th place.

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The changes to Formula One in the real world are finally ready to be properly reflected in the video game franchise from Codemasters. F1 2014 used the last generation engine and for those that played it, it definitely showed its need for an update. Yearly licences will always get to a point where the cross over of technology can betray it. F1 2014 was beset by this on both the gaming front with next-generation consoles and with the motor sport’s own evolution following a massive dynamic shift to more energy efficient vehicles. We previewed F1 2014 last year and you could tell from the games entire demeanour that this wasn’t going to be the game of F1’s past. In a way it was almost a good soft launch or education in to capturing the feel of the new cars.

So we fast forward to this year and F1 2015. A game that is coming DURING the season, which is excellent news. The game has traditionally, and rather annoyingly for Codemasters, launched towards the end of a season rather than other sports titles that precede their competitive starts. And as a bonus, although some may see it as a “thanks for sticking with us last year” present, last years Formula One season will be included along with the 2015 season. So you can dominate as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes against two different seasons worth of driver lineups.

As you can probably tell by my opening paragraph, the game is tricky. It of course can be watered down with assists but, come on! The sport is deliberately trying to make these cars harder to drive, so go along with it. Like most simulation based games, practice and an appreciation of the learning curve needed to drive a virtual Formula One car is very rewarding. Especially when you see the work that has gone in to making the game stand out on Next-Genertaion hardware.

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You could argue that the EGO engine was due a facelift and it has got it. Whilst the Singapore circuit and the changing weather effects are quite obviously for our demonstration benefit, they are a great demonstration. The problem with many racing games, thanks to the realism in the cars and the track, is that the surroundings can suffer from not feeling very alive. But as you drive around Marina Bay in the lashing rain, you actually feel the tinge of fear. You have that worry that the beautiful puddle in front of you that’s majestically reflecting the light from the theme park is going to send you aquaplaning in to the floodlit tyre wall. As you enter the chicane under the grandstand towards the end of the circuit, you come close to where the waters edge is and you wonder if a big crashing wave will come over, through the barriers and on to the track right as you’re hitting the apex. Of course it won’t but that’s the feeling the game can evoke. Your fear and trepidation makes you falter with the intense concentration you need to drive these cars, and they are intense in the wet.

So much work has been done to make the game feel more alive and it’s not just a mechanical device in the gameplay, it’s also an atmospheric one. The new focus on broadcast cameras and new cutscenes, along with the return of Stevenage’s lesser known F1 master, David Croft, brings the game closer to the presentation that EA hit for their games. But this isn’t at the expense of the game or just added colour. If you remember the old F1 games on Playstation, you used to have Murray Walker making occasional quips which after a while grated and annoyed more than pleased. And commentary can quickly date a game. But the branding, the new camera angles, the more graphically televisual approach to things like menu screens, driver selection, etc can really get you in to it. Along with a new race engineer, the game is aesthetically getting quite the facelift, much like the sport.

I operate under a strange bias when it comes to Formula One games as I love the sport and I’ve really enjoyed Codemasters games. F1 2013 was a magnificent package. But I’m also quite demanding now thanks to what has come before it with Project CARS’s wonderful visuals, Driveclub’s amazing environments and the freedom and sense of vehicle character you get with the Forza Horizon games.

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Much like current Formula One, your management of your car and fuel is paramount. The control methods on both wheel and controller are easy to use (last year’s pad control wasn’t particularly great). But this heightened drama is being propped up by better AI and the Campaign mode. Picking a driver and playing an entire season with them has been a staple of ALL racing games so it’s good to see it finally appear in F1 2015. There’s the new Pro Championship mode which is for the purists (masochists) to give you the most authentic experience without having to individually turn everything off.

The dynamics of Formula One are changing all the time. For all of the Mercedes dominance, Renault’s failing’s, Red Bull throwing their frustrations at Renault, Bernie Ecclestone making soundbites that would probably dissolve many PR companies and McLaren Honda’s struggle to make their new partnership deliver on the track, it is the narrative behind all of them that grip up to those 2 hours on a Sunday where we live and breath our passion for the sport through our love of the racing on offer.

It’s something that the rule changes have done to give us a more open race and therefore a more interesting narrative. F1 2015 looks on course to give us the solid experience of racing and the drama we crave from the sport. If it’s the evoking of a powerful visual of a rain soaked track in Singapore, the elation of mastering a corner, the bittersweet sadness of seeing Jules Bianchi’s name in the roster from last season or the triumph of winning a race, the early impressions are that F1 2015 has it. Let’s hope it keeps up the pace during its final laps.

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