Today we’re looking at three new releases: AGOS: A Game of Space, which is Ubisoft’s next entry in the VR domain, Asterix & Obelix XXL: Romastered and the new console port of Stories Untold.
AGOS: A Game of Space
We still know Ubisoft as one of the first big publishers to jump on VR, inviting media like us very early on to show us what they were working on. Back in 2015 we saw a demo based on Far Cry 3, which was recently turned into an arcade experience. We also saw an early prototype of what ended up being Eagle Flight, and of course they’ve released unique experiences like Werewolves Within and Star Trek: Bridge Crew. It’s been a bit quiet in recent years, but now we have AGOS: A Game Of Space.
AGOS is (for now) exclusive to PC-based VR headsets, so there’s no PSVR version or Oculus Quest support – though we got the game working on a Quest through a third party app and it works great that way. In the game, you’re gathering resources in space, building and using probes and improving upon the capabilities of your ship. You’re ultimately finding new hope for humanity in space as the last ship to leave a doomed earth, but the gameplay is surprisingly mellow for such a setup – providing a mostly relaxing experience as long as you get comfortable with its unique control scheme first.
The latter is worth mentioning, because although AGOS has a sci-fi theme, it is very different from Ubisoft’s Space Junkies, which is a fast-paced arena shooter. Here, you pilot a spaceship using two orbs that you carefully interact with using motion controls. Placing your hand on the left one lets you apply thrust in all different directions, while the right orb controls your spatial orientation. This will feel a bit unwieldy a first since it’s quite different from gamepad controls, but after a while it’s an immersive and empowering experience – one you can’t get when you’re grasping a gamepad.
Gameplay-wise, AGOS is a tad underwhelming, with far less narrative content than I would have expected when looking at the trailers for the game – and instead just short gameplay loops where you gather resources, upgrade and move on. You’ll eventually run into a bit of danger, but Star Wars Squadrons this is not. Instead, it’s a unique way to experience a spacefaring adventure at a slower pace in VR, without motion sickness some people have with fast paced action. Combine all that with visuals that are relatively plain in today’s PC-VR field, and I normally wouldn’t have thought of a major publisher like Ubisoft when looking at AGOS. If you enjoy innovative controls in VR, this is one to check out.
Asterix & Obelix XXL: Romastered
This certainly has been a console generation full of remakes and remasters, bringing back countless classics and many not-quite-classics to new systems. This next console generation we’re getting is much more backwards compatible than previous ones, so there’s a chance that the trend might end, but for now we have the aptly titled Romastered edition of Asterix & Obelix XXL.
The game’s sequel already received a remaster treatment earlier, so it’s nice to see the original game appear on PS4 (as well as other consoles and PCs), even though they started with XXL 2 because it was better received than the first game. For completionists’ sake, however, it’s great to now have all three games on the PS4 and to be able to take them with you to the PS5 as well.
The gameplay is still the same as it was back in the PS2 days though – Asterix and Obelix find their village attacked by Caesar and the iconic duo sets out to fight back against the Roman empire – traveling to various places in the empire on a grand trip. Whenever you are though, the gameplay will feel similar – slap a whole bunch of Romans in the face, collect helmets for doing so, solve the occasional puzzle to keep going, and use the aforementioned helmets as currency in the in-game store for upgrades.
It’s a formulaic approach to the platformer/beat ’em up genre that shows the age of the original game. This is especially clear from the fact that you can simply get past hundreds of Romans by way of button mashing and powering up your combo attack – though at the same time this makes XXL Romastered a game with a gentle learning curve (but with a newly added extreme mode for an additional challenge). Sometimes the Romans get so numerous that it’s hard to make out where you are in the scene as well, so in those cases button mashing is pretty much your only and last resort.
Visually, the game received a similar treatment to the previous Asterix & Obelix remaster, and if you want to see the changes (or are feeling nostalgic) you can switch between the old and the new visuals with the click of a button at any point during the game. Unfortunately, this also highlights that some of the new visuals aren’t that impressive and that XXL 2 fared better in the transition than this game did. Coming from last year’s XXL 3, this one feels like a definite jump backwards despite the remaster treatment.
As such, I wish they had started with Asterix & Obelix XXL before working their way towards XXL 3 – so that we’d see the games consistently get better. Then again, the decision to start with the more polished XXL 2 now makes more sense than ever. Worth a playthrough for fans, but don’t expect too much.
Stories Untold was released earlier on PCs, but only just landed on consoles. Because it was developed by the development team behind the excellent sci-fi thriller Observation No Code, we couldn’t wait to take a look.
“You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.”
If those lines make you feel nostalgic, then you can just go ahead and pick up Stories Untold right away. The game is structured like a mini-series TV show, and the first episode is an homage to the text adventures of the early eighties – games that merely gave you textual descriptions of what was happening in the game and required you to input text in order to interact with the world. Obviously that little snippet above is from arguably the most famous of the them, Zork.
In Stories Untold, you start playing an adventure game called The House Abandon, while sitting in a game room straight out of 1986 – complete with a CRT monitor/TV and a home computer that loads games from a tape. I knew about this setup and wondered how it would translate to the keyboard-less environment of the PS4, and although forming phrases from pre-selected words isn’t quite as authentic as it could have been, it’s much better than typing out entire phrases using an on-screen keyboard.
Soon after you start playing, however, you find that unnerving things aren’t just happening inside of the text adventure game, but also in the real life environment you’re sitting in. There’s a sinister and supernatural vibe to everything, and the wonderfully well done retro aesthetic works wonders in how it’s delivered visually.
Expect old timey computers, familiar sounds as software loads from a tape and you virtually press that keyboard, and a grain filter that makes everything look as though you’re playing it off an old VHS tape. The other episodes don’t rely on this ‘game within a game mechanic’, but you’re still stationary and trying to interact with the world by solving puzzles and figuring out what’s going on. Episode 2 casts you working a lab, while the third one takes place in a radio station.
Puzzles are well designed and walk that fine line between being satisfying to solve and being too easy or frustrating for their own good, and the pacing is well done – the whole thing is presented as a TV show of sorts, complete with a Twilight Zone-type of intro, so it’s a good thing that the momentum keeps going. The game’s fourth episode wraps up after less than four hours of play, but if you keep in mind that Stories Untold can be bought at a bargain price that is excellent value for money. This is an extremely well crafted and almost experimental game that takes a novel approach to digital storytelling. It’s well worth playing, and even though it’s beginning to sound like a cliché it couldn’t have been timed better in terms of Halloween.