Month: August 2017

Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow

Futurama is one of my all time favourite animated series – I’ve always felt that it’s far superior to The Simpsons and never understood why it’s the one that’s now been cancelled twice, perhaps outside of the fact that science fiction is generally a harder sell that a standard family comedy. So, I generally make time for any new Futurama related things that come along such as the new game Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow.

Despite Futurama being around for nearly 20 years now, Worlds of Tomorrow is only the second game based on the series (the last was the imaginatively titled Futurama: The Game waayy back in 2003) and again comes out after the cancellation of the current TV run of the show.

 

Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow follows the same basic structure as previous mobile games based on Fox animated properties, namely The Simpsons: Tapped Out! and Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, both of which have you building a town of signature buildings from the show in question as well as collecting key characters. The characters can then be set on tasks and of varying lengths, as well as story quests which earn ingame currency to buy more buildings and unlock more characters and so on. Having played Tapped Out! several years ago this all felt very familiar, as it’s very similar to that game.

Worlds of Tomorrow opens with a fully animated introduction, featuring the voices of all of the main cast of the series, and features the universe once again in danger with only the Planet Express crew to save it. A rip in space and time cause The Hypnotoad to meet his equivalent from another universe and breaks the galaxy. Nibbler saves Fry from being caught up in it and, back in New New York, then has to start collecting Hypnotons to clear the city and get everything back to normal.

 

One major new feature that Worlds of Tomorrow has that Tapped Out! didn’t, unless it’s added something similar since I quit, are the space ship missions. You can use the Planet Express ship to fly to a number of planets and select from a variety of routes through the map which will take you up against different enemies. Completing all of the quests on each planet will unlock and artifact that opens up a new area of the city that has unique buildings and characters in it.

The main type of missions that you’ll face in space are turn based battles, where your crew of characters go up against a variety of different monster and enemy types from the show. Initially you can only have three characters on a space mission, but as you collect the artifacts and open up areas of New New York this will gradually increase first to four and then five. The combat is fairly straightforward, as your characters have only a single attack and a special that charges as you take and receive damage. As you attack each enemy, a white circle will appear around their feet which will quickly fill up, tapping the screen as soon as it is full causes your attack to cause extra damage, and you can do the same while being attacked to reduce the damage taken.

 

There are five different types of character class in the game. Delivery Boys, such as Fry and Kif, have a single enemy attack with their special being a higher powered version. Scientists like the Professor or Amy have an attack that can hit enemies on either side of the target, while the special attack hits every enemy on screen. The remaining classes all do buffs with the special, and a single attack as standard. Bender and other Robot class characters have a defense buff, Captains like Leela have an attack power buff and finally Influencers like the Planet Express janitor Scruffy heal all player characters.

There are also a number of missions that give multiple choice options on how you wish to proceed or talk to other characters, depending on the choices you make you can end up with either rewards or potentially taking damage. As you complete the space missions you’re given career chips that come in either generic or class specific varieties. These are used to level up the characters to give them additional abilities as well as increasing their health and attack power during battle missions.

 

The majority of the art in the game is very much in the style of the original show. While in New New York you can see all of the characters that you have unlocked and, if you zoom in, the level of detail is actually quite impressive. They’re well animated and look just like the show, and that level of detail carries over to each of the buildings too. I wouldn’t have minded the ability to place some of the travel tubes that you see all over the city in the cartoon around my buildings. Maybe in a future update..

In the turn based battles, the art style shifts to 16-bit pixel art. The characters all have slightly shrunken proportions but are all easily recognisable. I do prefer the clean art from the rest of the game, but it does still look rather cool. When performing a special attack the character picture fills the screen which lets you see them in more detail.

All of the main voice cast return to their characters for the game. Each will have a few sayings when clicking on them, and it’s nice to hear new work from all of the actors again. There’s so far been once celebrity guest character, George Takei, and he performs all the voice acting for his character. The music and sound effects are all also spot on Futurama, and it really does sound like the show. Several writers from the show also contribute to the script writing including showrunner David X. Cohen, so as well as sounding right all of the characters speak just like they should too.

I started playing just after the launch week which, annoyingly, means that I missed out on the chance to get the Nixon and Agnew character (Arrrooo!) but he was a premium character and only available through the game’s paid currency of pizza – as much as I love the character in the series I don’t think he’s worth the frankly ridiculous £15 of real money he would have cost, so it’s not the end of the world. It does highlight a problem with this game that I also had when I used to play Tapped Out!, that some content and characters are only available during specific events and may not be available at all again in future.

 

The situation is potentially even worse with the current ongoing event, Lrrr Strikes Back! This massive chunk of new story and content, running for a whole month and labelled as Episode 1, has Lrrr and the Omicronian fleet invade Earth (for the fifth time) and has a number of new missions and actions for characters to complete. The event will be finishing in a couple of days, and it has had nine characters and several costumes that are only available during the event. This is a huge proportion of the twenty six characters available in the game at the moment, and will leave any newcomers at a disadvantage compared to other players when it comes to producing resources through character actions. The game is of course still quite new, so it’s entirely possible that these episodes will be re-run in future allowing new players a chance to experience the story and earn the characters.

One of the game’s biggest issues is that it’s one of the least stable mobile games at least that I can remember playing. It fairly frequently just crashes out completely with no error messages, gives random errors on start up (though these don’t seem to have any effect) and perhaps worst of all fails to reconnect if it’s lost internet access – the screen with Scruffy as pictured below has never reconnected for me. It gets stuck in a loop of asking you to reconnect and then telling you to wait 10 seconds so that you can try again and every time I’ve seen this screen I’ve had to kill the app and launch it again. The stability has increased somewhat since it first launched, but it’s definitely something the developers should be working on as a priority.

While I don’t know if it’s something I’ll keep playing long term like I did with Tapped Out!, as I have a lot more ongoing games that I’m playing these days, I’m really enjoying Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow so far and I’ll definitely be sticking with it at least until I’ve unlocked all of New New York and finished the storyline. As a Futurama fan, having what amounts to another series of episodes is definitely something I can’t pass up.

Games Backlog – Ace Combat: Assault Horizon

Between big new releases and starting a new job a couple of months ago, I’ve not had a lot of time to continue working through my backlog of older games. Considering it’s now August and I’m writing about a game from ‘A’ still, it just goes to show how well I’m doing. I think I’ve already somewhat tired of just working down the list in alphabetical order though, so I think I’ll end up playing something that doesn’t begin with an A next. But that’s next time, today is Ace Combat: Assault Horizon.

While I’ve been aware of the series from a distance for quite some time, I’d never previously gotten around to playing an Ace Combat game. I’m not even sure why, really.. I enjoy arcade flight games in general and there aren’t all that many of them so I’d have expected to actually play one before now. Perhaps it was mostly down to them not being released on a platform I have while that was my dominant console, at least in the early days. I played almost exclusively on the Nintendo 64 and PC during the late 90s, and by the time I was playing on consoles concurrent with a game release it was already 4, 5 or 6 titles into the series and that always feels like something of a barrier to entry to me.

All this means that Assault Horizon is my first Ace Combat. Even before I started playing, I was aware that series purists weren’t exactly fans of this one so I went in with somewhat lowered expectations.

 

Most of the previous games in the Ace Combat series had been set in an alternate universe, known as Strangereal, on a version of Earth with different continents and countries but with (generally) real designs of fighter planes. Assault Horizon on the other hand, is set on what’s intended to be the real world so all of the missions are set in and featuring existing places and countries. I understand that, on release, many at the time felt that this was intended to be a reboot of the series (if that was the case, those plans are no more as next year’s Ace Combat 7 is back in Strangereal) into a more gritty realistic one which very likely will have contributed to the general dislike from the fandom.

None of this meant anything to me going in of course, and in a way I’m somewhat glad that it’s a break from previous games as it meant I wasn’t ever wondering if I was missing anything. Assault Horizon follows a joint NATO group of fighter squadrons led by Colonel William Bishop of Warwolf squadron. It’s honestly not all that memorable a story and mostly exists as a framework for making you go to different parts of the world – while playing it I felt very much that it was the Modern Warfare of flight sim games which I still feel is somewhat accurate. The plot isn’t really all that memorable to be honest, and has your these days standard Modern Warfare/Tom Clancy kind of thing with traitorous Russians and experimental superweapons and the like. It’s basically action movie level of plot engagement – I didn’t particularly care about the logic or details of what was going on, because the things going on let me fly shiny fighter planes and blow things up.

 

And what shiny planes they are. Assault Horizon features nearly 40 flyable aircraft, made up of mostly fighter planes but also a small selection of other types of craft such as helicopters and bombers. The majority of the craft are real world designs of planes past and present, as well as a few that are currently prototypes but there are also a couple of completely fictional aircraft from other games in the Ace Combat series. The vehicle models are incredibly detailed, and look exactly like you would expect them to with tons of moving parts like flaps and exhausts and so on. Each craft also has a number of selectable camouflage styles. These include a mixture of real life styles, ones based on previous games as well as promotional skins for other Namco games such as the very subtle Pac Man deco I flew a mission in that most definitely wouldn’t have made me an incredibly obvious target.

While the vehicle models look great, the characters that populate the cutscenes between missions don’t fare so well unfortunately. Even bearing in mind that Assault Horizon is an slightly older game, having been released in 2011, the characters are poorly animated and unrealistic and have this plastic look that was more common in the early Xbox 360 days circa 2005. I’ve seen far worse, but they’re astonishingly average. This isn’t a terrible problem, being as they’re only present in the cutscenes and never in any gameplay but it does feel a little jarring going from really pretty and detailed fighter planes to rubbish characters, and it probably didn’t help all that much with me paying attention to the story either.

 

Most of the game’s missions are based in fighter planes with you playing as Colonel Bishop. These missions are essentially the classic Ace Combat gameplay but with an extra feature that’s drawn most of the fire from some long time fans of the series, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. Despite the simulator level of detail on the planes, Ace Combat is an arcade style game so there isn’t excessive levels of detail to the controls. You accelerate with the right trigger and decelerate with the left, the bumpers roll the plane left or right and the face buttons are target selection and weapons. The controls are simple and easy to pick up, but really effective and I never found myself in any real difficulty maneuvering the plane around.

The controversial feature, at least as far as a lot of the fandom are concerned, is the Dog Fight Mode. When you’re attacking an enemy fighter and have it in a target lock at close range, a circle will appear around your targeting reticle. As you get closer this circle will shrink until it finally turns red and if you then press both the bumpers together you enter Dog Fight Mode. When you’re in DFM the camera shifts to the underside of the plane or to just over one of the wings and focuses on the weaponry there while giving a clear view of the target, as well as entering esssentially an auto pilot. You can move the reticle around on the screen to better target the enemy fighter and attack with greater accuracy to bring them down quicker. I personally quite liked DFM as it made some of the fights feel even more intense, but I can see how such as massive addition or change to a series’ established gameplay can draw some criticism.

The handful of missions where you’re not in a fighter have you playing as an airman from one of Warwolf’s various supporting squadrons. A couple of missions give you direct control over a helicopter which I found to be quite clunky, especially when compared to how well planes control, and instead use the triggers for attacks which felt somewhat counter-intuitive after hours of using the face buttons. There are also missions where you man the side guns on a helicopter gunship, fly a bomber to destroy some larger targets and finally the now-obligatory AC-130 gunner sequence that so many games in the post-Modern Warfare world have felt the need to include. None of these were particularly terrible, but they weren’t as fun as flying a fighter so in some ways feel somewhat pointless but I understand the logic of trying to give a bit of variety in gameplay.

 

I did feel that most of the missions were a little too long, many were paced into several acts or phases that I feel would have been better split into separate missions. Some later missions can take over half an hour to finish, and I think that’s too much for a single unbroken section of arcade gaming. The auto save in missions is quite generous though, and you can quit mid mission so on the odd occasion that I was playing during my break I didn’t have any real issues with just quitting and picking back up where I was.

One thing that stuck out to me almost immediately when I started the game up was the score, as it’s really really good. In particular the main theme that’s peppered through the score and comes up regularly during epic fights comes back to that feeling of being an action movie and really works well, but the rest of the tracks are almost as good and there’s tons of atmosphere from the music alone. The character voices, rather like the models themselves, are entirely unexceptional though at least are largely serviceable with the exception of a few dodgy accents. At least all the action noises such as the planes, weaponry, explosions and so on sound decent enough.

Despite the mission length, there aren’t all that many of them so it isn’t a terribly long game overall. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it never wore out it’s welcome and the 11 hours or so that I spent on it felt to me like a decent length for the game. The missions can all be replayed once you’ve completed them should you wish to try out other planes, go for any missing side objectives or achievements and the like, which can extend your play time somewhat too.

 

All in all, I rather enjoyed my first Ace Combat experience. I’m now very much looking forward to the release of Ace Combat 7 on PC next year, and will certainly consider going back some of the previous games in the series before then – the confusingly titled Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy on the 3DS (which is actually a remake of Ace Combat 2 with no story links to Assault Horizon) will probably be my next Ace Combat before 7 comes out.

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