Lacuna – A Sci-fi Noir Adventure, Horatio Goes Snowboarding and Risk System were all recently ported to consoles, giving us a chance to check them out. Here are our thoughts.
Lacuna – A Sci-fi Noir Adventure
Developer DigiTales Interactive released Lacuna – A Sci-fi Noir Adventure back in May of last year, and it fits nicely into a recent trend we’ve been noticing now that publisher Assemble has brought it to consoles – with versions for every major system out now.
That trend? Seeing games you previously wouldn’t expect to hit consoles get ported over. We’ve been noticing it ever since the launch of the next gen consoles, where AAA production are far and few between and publishers are instead bringing existing games to new audiences. While some are forgettable, Lacuna’s one of the better examples out there, even though pixel art point and click adventures weren’t high on our most wanted list on the PlayStation 5.
The game feels like a mix of Beneath a Steel Sky, Blade Runner, The Darkside Detective and Life is Strange – certainly a good selection of titles to draw inspiration from. You’re Neil Conrad, a detective looking to solve a high profile murder case while also struggling with personal demons himself. The reference to Darkside Detective is not just due to the detective part either – Lacuna sports a similar visual aesthetic that will appeal to indie fans but might dissuade others who prefer a less retro-like look.
Look beyond that though, and you’ll see a game world full of powerful corporations, factions and interplanetary travel. That’s where Steel Sky and Blade Runner come in, but what’s perhaps most striking about Lacuna is its choice-driven dialogue system – which is a little different from the classic point and click games you might remember. Instead of exhausting your options in conversations while you look for a way forward through the story, your choices here actually affect how the story plays out and how the narrative branches – hence the Life if Strange reference. It’s a well-implemented feature, and stands out more than the detective stuff, which is mostly about paying attention and selecting what you’ve found in conversations at key points.
To illustrate the freedom of choice, you can choose to repair or ignore your broken relationships with your wife and daughter – which don’t relate to the main detective story but are impactful story branches nonetheless. Whatever choices you make though, Lacuna’s story is a relatively short one, clocking in at four to five hours. It’s a great little adventure game though, especially if you dig the noir/detective vibe and fondly remember the other games mentioned here. The storytelling is good, the soundtrack matches the visual style and mood, and it’s being released at a budget-friendly price point.
Horatio Goes Snowboarding
With a title Horatio Goes Snowboarding your mind quickly wanders towards games like SSX, or perhaps (in an indie state of mind) something like OlliOlli. It’s more arcade-like than those titles though, which shouldn’t be a surprise when you consider it was developed by Infinite State Games – who previously released the game on Steam and have now brought it to consoles.
As fans of the PlayStation Vita, we remember the developer for the excellent Don’t Die, Mr Robot and Rogue Aces – which we struggled with for a bit but couldn’t put down. Both games had a retro flair to them, and Horatio Goes Snowboarding is no different – evoking memories of the arcade classic (recently turned TV show) that is Frogger, though in a more direct link it’s a reimagining of a ZX Spectrum game called Horace Goes Skiing.
Horatio Goes Snowboarding feels like two game modes that were welded together, but they make for a nice gameplay loop. In part one, Horatio has to venture out towards the helicopter that will take him out to the slopes, and to get there he has to avoid the dangers of traffic – much like Frogger. Once you get there safely, the chopper takes you to the slopes, after which a downhill skiing event starts that isn’t too unlike the downhill skiing games of the Commodore 64 era – which includes games like Ski, Slalom and Olympic Skier, so Horace Goes Skiing at least had some imaginative naming going for it.
The Frogger portion is really too simple for its own good, lasting only about 15 seconds and not presenting players with enough challenge or diversity. The snowboarding initially feels the same, but as you keep doing the same gameplay loop you’ll start to figure out the secrets to scoring higher – steering through gates and veering very close to some of the obstacles on the slope. It’s easy to grasp yet hard to master, and a fun little diversion, but lacks that “one more go” feel that Don’t Die, Mr Robot has. Leaderboards and trophies provide some incentive to come back, but without a good long term hook this is one for the retro enthusiasts who remember the originals.
Side-scrolling arcade shooters certainly aren’t a rare breed, especially when you count what comes out of the indie scene. Risk System from Net Industries makes its way to consoles over two years after it launched on PCs, and as you might have guessed from the title it has a rather standout gameplay mechanic.
As almost always, there’s a thin plot involving a hostile race (of energy beings, this time) attacking mankind, but you won’t concern yourself with the narrative too much once the bullets start flying. Risk System, in true arcade fashion, only has six levels to fight through, but provides plenty of challenge. It also provides an auto-fire option that’s enabled by default, but if – like us – like smashing the fire button instead you can enable that as well.
You can dodge (barrel-roll) upwards or downwards as well, but the most interesting control mechanics is the ability to charge up a powerful special attack by steering your ship close to enemies and their bullets. It’s risky (hence the game’s name), and although we’ve seen similar mechanics before it’s being brought to the forefront here in a big way. Besides charging up your special weapon, you can also grab more pickups as a reward, so if you have a steady hand you can gain an edge in this shooter. It’s a lot of fun to play around with, and exciting to see how far you’re willing to push your luck.
The risk vs reward element works great during levels, but boss fights feel more traditional in that they’re a case of memorizing attack patterns rather than using the risk system. These fights also provide the biggest challenge in the game, which is presented with a colorful visual style that reminded us a bit of games like Parodius. A nice little budget-priced shooter for fans of the genre who like to play games that do things a little differently.