Sports ignite people. We map stories to players’ careers. We label rival athletes facing off as heroes and villains. We cry when the home team loses a deciding playoff match. We rejoice when they finally win championship gold.
Pyre sets out to spark that real human passion in its fantastical basketball/visual novel combo.
Supergiant Games, the creative studio behind Pyre, is known for its sensuous, painterly art direction. The developers do not disappoint, as one look at the screenshots should make clear. Vibrant blues and reds blend in soft brush strokes and end in thick lines in the lovingly detailed player portraits. Neon greens, yellows, and purples contrast strikingly to form surreal panoramic landscapes littered with titanic alien skeletal remains.
The character designs feel familiar yet fresh; towering horned demons and alluring harpies get mixed in with armored worm-knights and small, scrappy dog men. These creatures spring to life like in classic hand-drawn Western animation, their frames moving with the conviction of the weight they carry. Tiny imps dart about manically, savages soar with wild grace, and the sentient trees lumber as if they own the earth.
These animations playing out in the Rites, which is what Pyre formally calls its magical 3v3 sport, is a dazzling display of balletic athletics.
Darren Korb’s zydeco-electronica fusion soundtrack ramps up the tension in every contest, brings things down to a wistful melancholic chill on the road in between matches, and rouses the spirits with folksy ballads alongside soulful vocal talent Ashley Barrett.
Fantasy basketball for freedom
In-universe, you are the Reader. You have been exiled to the Downside, a desolate no man’s land, for the crime of literacy. Reading is strictly forbidden in the Commonwealth, the nation where you came from. The only way back to civilization is through winning the Rites, as the purity of performance in this divine tradition pardons victors of all their sins.
In the Rites, two teams of three players fight over control of a celestial orb, with the goal of dousing the opposing force’s pyre. This is accomplished by plunging the orb into the pyre repeatedly until its flames are snuffed. Points signify the strength of the pyre, dwindling every time the orb is thrown into it. Once the points are reduced to zero, the match ends.
As the Reader, you act as coach to the Nightwings, once hailed as the ultimate test for other teams to prove their worth, but have now just returned as a ragtag band of misfits, eager as any of the exiles to earn freedom.
Increasing complexity in competition
In-game, you take direct control of the Nightwings, maneuvering one player at a time. The mechanics are easy to understand upfront for a somewhat novel take on basketball, and the control scheme feels natural given the one-player limitation. However, the variations in character abilities, statistics, and equippable items make matches more intricate and even overwhelming when the difficulty spikes.
You might find yourself cruising through the early battles, as the AI players are content to watch you zip across the field, sail over their heads, and slam dunk that orb into their pyre. I certainly did, especially with immediate access to the speedier characters that can run past enemies with ease. It didn’t take too long for me to start experiencing more intense competition, though, eventually resulting in losses where my opponents choked my offense and danced all over my defense.
And this is where the unique beauty of Pyre shines through.
There is no game over
Win or lose in the Rites, the plot keeps moving. Remember that everyone in the Downside is an exile and yearns for liberty, too. So when your adversaries triumph, their own personal narratives advance in step with the Nightwings’ journey. And while a majority of the teams you face are headed by unrepentant evildoers, there are a couple of genuinely good people also vying for liberation.
When you learn how the aged cur Dalbert Oldheart was unfairly banished from the Commonwealth, losing doesn’t sound so bad if this kind old critter goes free. You can be victorious next time, and without a guilty conscience, dunk on Witch Udmildhe and her bog crones who wish to unleash the malevolent Yslach Astral-Born on the world.
Not that winning doesn’t come with its own price either. When you win and let a team member go back to the Commonwealth, you let that team member go for good. In addition, you can only choose from the three characters you’ve used in matches the most. This means you’re constantly losing the players you’re most accustomed to when you keep winning.
MVPs, one and all
Thankfully, every individual you recruit into the Nightwings is a standout, both in how they play in the Rites and how their own story arcs develop and overlap with the rest of the colorful cast. Pamitha, the sassy harpy, cuts across the field with winged fury, but relents at the immediate sight of her sister out of guilt. The pale white, blue-eyed blonde demon Jodariel cuts an imposing figure with her steely stare and twisted horns, and she commands the court with her presence. Yet, past her stoicism lies warm, motherly instincts.
Pyre introduces such outcasts with complicated backgrounds at a reasonably rapid clip, and when you’ve assembled the entire crew, revelations are dropped at an even pace to keep you driving forward to see where the plot goes.
And before I forget, most of the interactions with the characters and the world at large is through the visual novel format of still portraits and lots of text interspersed with choices. Voice acting (save for one particular role which has to be heard to be believed) is limited to mumblings in a made-up language. It’s charming in how distinct the delivery is, and I never noticed a single canned soundbite.
Consuming, fiery storytelling
Yet this static presentation never left me bored or buttoning through dialogue. I basically marathoned 10 hours on my first session, and reached the very end on my second five-hour sitdown with the game. Despite the archetypes that make up the cast, the authenticity in characterization made me love each of the Nightwings.
I laughed at Rukey Greentail’s boasts landing his furry tail in hot water. I was in awe of Sir Gilman’s boisterous determination. I pondered on Volfred Sandalwood’s notions of true independence. I was gutted over Hedwyn’s broken promise. I agonized over every choice as to which of them I would anoint for freedom.
I will be replaying Pyre. I want to learn more about those I let go early, fight even harder, and just make better decisions to see how all the Nightwings deal with the burden of losing comrades and gaining liberty in a land of oppression. I will cast myself once more into the fires of competition for their sake, because Pyre made me believe their bonds are worth burning for.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider will be out soon
Square Enix is being such a tease!
With the Game Developers Conference happening in just a few days, Square Enix recently announced a teaser for the Shadow of the Tomb Raider. This will be the third action-adventure game in the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise.
As to the specifics of the game, it has just been crickets and tumbleweeds. Square Enix is keeping their lips sealed — leaving us with just a cinematic trailer with a few quick shots of the upcoming game.
On the bright side, they’re promising a “full reveal” on April 27. They may hold off on some details on the game for E3 though, seeing as E3 is right around the corner.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is following Rise of the Tomb Raider which was released three years ago. It’s nice to see the franchise return to Lara Croft. As for what to expect, people are looking forward to new features besides the usual supernatural mystery, thugs to take down, items to collect, guns and bows, and tombs to, well, raid.
Unfortunately, fans will have to wait for more announcements next month. Shadow of the Tomb Raider will be available on September 14 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
Google is opening Maps for game developers!
Get ready for more AR games
There’s a wave of location-based augmented reality games that highly depend on Google Maps. However, the inability to create accurate mapping has been keeping developers from optimizing game design. Luckily, Google just announced that it’s opening up its mapping platform to game developers. This means anyone one can create AR games now with more ease.
Google says that its new Maps platform has been optimized for game developers. These developers can start by signing up to be given access to real-time Google Maps data.
To support developers after signing up, Google is also working on launching a new software development kit on Unity. Unity is one of the most popular game engines in the world so incorporating mapping data into this engine will help aspiring developers everywhere.
Even further, Google is introducing a new API to help create gameplay experiences around real-world locations. Google will be working closely with developers on this aspect, especially regarding appropriating elements, like span points and quest locations, within games.
One of the goals of the project was to help developers build detailed worlds using Maps data as a base to paint over.
“In this way you can create unique game environments that still feel connected to the real world,” says Patrick Donelan, lead engineer on the project.
This is a much-awaited move from Google. Following the raging success of Pokemon Go’s launch, they started receiving a surge of requests from developers looking to utilize Google Maps data for mobile games.
Over the years, Google has had a multitude of discussions with game developers and players as to how to help create a platform that optimizes AR game development. Google’s new Maps gaming initiative is the result of those discussions. This, Google says, focuses on location-based AR mobile games.
Google says it will be talking more about the initiative at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on March 19-23.
6 Best Gaming Smartphones (Q1 2018)
Each phone has its own power!
It’s easy to dismiss gaming smartphones as any flagship phone that’s currently available. There’s truth to that, but there also some factors we want to consider when looking for a smartphone that’ll be primarily used for mobile gaming like display size, battery life, and any accessories that’ll help improve the gaming experience.
Without further ado, here are our top six picks for the best gaming smartphones:
Apple iPhone 8 Plus
Whether you like iOS or not, you can’t deny that iPhones (especially the latest releases) are one of, if not the best mobile gaming platform. Apple’s devices run smoothly and are favored by developers so it’s a no-brainer that games released for iOS are guaranteed to be in tip-top shape. We chose the iPhone 8 Plus here because of its larger display at 5.5 inches and bigger battery compared to the iPhone 8, and it doesn’t have a notch that gets in the way like with the iPhone X.
Motorola Moto Z2 Play
Motorola’s game-changing Moto Mod accessories make their Moto Z series special. If you pair the Moto Z2 Play with the Gamepad Moto Mod, it’ll be an instant portable console. The Gamepad adds dual control sticks, a D-pad, and four tactile action buttons which mean you don’t have to rely on touch controls anymore. Also, the Moto Mod magnetically attaches to the phone with no wireless pairing required and has its own built-in battery. The gaming accessory works with the much powerful Moto Z2 Force, as well.
If you’re looking for an Android powerhouse but don’t want to shell out much cash, the OnePlus 5T is the way to go. With its top-of-the-line specifications and beautiful AMOLED display, the OnePlus 5T is an ideal gaming smartphone without breaking the bank. It even has an insane amount of storage and memory options available if you need more space to keep your big games in your pockets and running in the background while you do other stuff on the phone. The display’s 18:9 aspect ratio also makes gaming more immersive than the conventional 16:9 ratio.
When we were shortlisting our gaming smartphones, the Razer Phone was already on the top of the list. The phone is focused on being a true gaming smartphone since it’s made by Razer. It’s got the latest specifications to play popular and demanding games, a 5.7-inch IGZO panel with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, front-facing stereo speakers, and a long-lasting battery. It also has other features to make it a daily driver, but you can immediately tell that the Razer Phone is built for gaming.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
One of the best and biggest Android smartphones is the Galaxy Note 8. It positions itself as a productivity phone with its S Pen and accompanying features, but thanks to the powerful processor, it can run demanding games, too. Its curved 6.3-inch Super AMOLED display is not only huge but also among the highest-rated displays in the market which will spoil you with pleasing visuals. While its battery is not as high capacity as others, it’s still sizeable at 3300mAh and the efficient processor can provide long hours of gaming.
Xiaomi Mi Max 2
Gaming smartphones don’t have to be expensive, especially for those who are fond of graphics-intensive games which are mainly shooting or racing titles. Some are just in for casual or multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games. For that, we recommend the Xiaomi Mi Max 2 — a large smartphone with midrange specs but sits in the budget price point. Its large 6.44-inch display is ideal for any game and the Snapdragon 625 can handle tasks pretty well. The phone is priced under US$ 270 (or even cheaper depending on where you buy it), making it the cheapest gaming smartphone on this list.
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