Gaming

Pyre review: A slam dunk in story and splendor

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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.

Entrancing aesthetics

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.

SEE ALSO: 7 must-play re-released video games in HD

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Gaming

TNC Predator, Afreeca Freecs Fatal win Predator League APAC 2019

For Dota 2 and PUBG

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After three long days of battle in Bangkok, Thailand from February 15 to 17, two champions have emerged from the two featured games of the Predator League in Asia Pacific 2019.

For Dota 2, it’s TNC Predator from the Philippines; and for PUBG, the champ is none other than Afreeca Freecs Fatal from South Korea.

Their winnings come from a prize pool worth US$ 250,000. Each champion receives US$ 75,000 for their efforts, while the runners-up split the remaining pot.

The grand event concluded after over 3,500 competing teams from 16 countries were eventually reduced to only 26 groups in Bangkok for the finals.

This was the Predator League’s second event in the APAC region. In 2018, it was held in Indonesia. Next year’s event will take place in the Philippines.

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Gaming

Nintendo reveals upcoming games for the Switch

Featuring some old favorites!

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Throughout the year, the world’s biggest tech companies host the most lavish events to promote new launches and announcements. Most of the time, these massive events have redefined their respective industries. Alternatively, some companies rely on subtler means for their launches. Regardless, the industry-defining effects remain the same.

Nintendo typifies this strategy to perfection, boasting their chops through online-only Nintendo Direct events. Today, in the first Nintendo Direct of the year, the company unveiled its slew of strong contenders going into 2019. Here’s a taste of Nintendo’s upcoming heavy-hitters:

Super Mario Maker 2

In 2015, Nintendo released its most revolutionary retooling of the Mario formula — Super Mario Maker. Exclusive to the 3DS and the Wii U, the highly customizable Mario game was a beloved hit. This June, Nintendo finally releases a follow-up featuring new tools, elements, and a lot more playability on the Switch.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

By no means a new game, Link’s Awakening brings the Game Boy classic to the Switch. This time, Nintendo has remastered the game in a top-down, 3D engine. Further, the remastered game features similar side-scrolling segments from the old game.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

The current Marvel fever has also infected the gaming world. The Black Order brings a four-player co-op brawler experience to the Switch. Featuring a wide array of characters from the universe, the game features an original story, pitting your favorite heroes against Thanos and the Black Order.

Tetris 99

Out today, Tetris 99 is the most shocking iteration of the time-honored series. Why? It’s a battle royale. The free online block-building game pits you against 98 other players in a race to become the last man standing.

Besides these four, Nintendo will also launch a flurry of updates and ports. In the coming months, the company will release substantial updates to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. It will also launch Assassin’s Creed 3 Remastered, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

SEE ALSO: Pokémon: Let’s Go gets its own Nintendo Switch bundles

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Apps

EA is looking into making a mobile version of Apex Legends

To battle with Fortnite

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Image credit: EA

EA‘s battle royale game is a certified hit. Apex Legends, which was developed by Titanfall makers Respawn, has no fewer than 25 million registered players in just one week. The game is playable for free on multiple platforms (PC, PS4, and Xbox One), but why not make it available on mobile as well?

Early reports don’t indicate mobile plans for the game, although during the Electronic Arts Q3 2019 earnings call, EA Games CEO said that they are looking into bringing Apex Legends to mobile devices.

Fortnite‘s userbase ballooned when it became available on Android and iOS, so it’s a no brainer than EA also wants mobile gamers to join the fun.

“We are looking at how to take the game to mobile and cross-play over time, and I also expect that this game will have tremendous value in Asia, and we’re in conversations about that,” EA Games CEO Andrew Wilson said during the conference call.

There’s no definite timeline for the release of Apex Legends on mobile, but it’s certainly on the drawing board. For now, EA plans to introduce direct purchase options for players to buy items and new legends or heroes. They will also offer the so-called Apex Packs or simply loot boxes for more random items.

Apex Legends is not a pay-to-win game, so these items are purely cosmetic and can be used to customize your hero’s looks in the game.

SEE ALSO: Apex Legends hits 25 million players after one week

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