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Against the Wall
Sgt.Psycho May 7, 2013 @ 4:53am
Review of alpha 0.53 version
Here's my review based on the alpha available at the website. Although I haven't played it through completely, I've played about an hour or so and think I'm a fair way through it. (At the cable car above the town)

Main menu has a nice, clean interface matching the game style and intuitive layout. Lots of graphic management controls, and support for controllers, but boo hiss for no resolution control. Unless you have a very old monitor, you will have to put up with 4:3 display ratio and sidebars.

Starting the game, the visuals are all that are promised, a very clean, simple aesthetic . The sky, taking up half the world, is quite breathtaking, with the clouds drifting gently past. The Wall itself has a nice texture and the small puffs of dust ejected around the cracks as a block ejects are a nice touch.

My system is Windows 7 Dual 2.6Ghz, 6Gb ram, GeForce 9500GT 550Mhz core 512 Mb and FRAPS shows a solid 25fps while messing around with blocks, and around 40fps while looking around at the scenery, which is not great, but 'fair'. I can pull 200fps in Team Fortress 2, so there's room for optimisation. No slowdown while fooling with blocks, no matter how many I activate, and you can seemingly do this at any range. If you can see a block highlight, you can move it. Cute. It's also very dynamic, so you can retract a block while it's still coming out, or hit multiple blocks in midair if you have a penchant for some Spiderman-style action (and a death wish besides).

Controls are fairly responsive, but could use some tuning. Continuous running makes any kind of sightseeing a hairy proposition. A creep-and-stop-on-edge as supported by many games would be appreciated, but would take away the imminent fear of falling. My biggest beef is the mouse. There's some kind of input lag/acceleration issue that's subconsciously annoying, yet not quite outstanding enough to be a deal-breaker. For me, it's like the mouse pad is coated in treacle and in play, it works, but just isn't 'snappy' and accurate enough. If you move slowly and deliberately, it's fine, but if you start to do dynos[www.urbandictionary.com] then it becomes a world of hurt as you can't accurately trigger blocks mid-jump, leading to the Long Dive...

In the distance are some nice structures, and some vegetation perched incongruously at 90° to gravity, but then that kind of makes sense if they're growing out to the sun, which shines directly at the Wall. On closer inspection, the geometry and textures could use more detail, hopefully these are just placeholders, but the general anime/alt-fantasy inspired theme continues nicely. Hopefully these will be more interactive and fleshed out later.

The sound is well done for an alpha and all the usual cues (texture-based footstep, hurt, jump, activate) are there. The block noises are particularly appropriate and satisfying, with a ringing activation, meaty, grainy grinding, and a final-sounding 'thump'. The ambient soundtrack never sounds looped or forced and is very natural. After a while it becomes part of the background is not annoying or noticeable synthetic at all, unlike some games (I'm looking at you Magic the Gathering: DotP 2010!).

The soundscape is only marred by an occasional pop/loud clipping, usually just after the very start or near the very end of a block movement sequence. It does this about 1/10 of the time, and usually only while 'vertihopping' (going straight up by jumping on top of the block you're facing in a column, not stair-stepping) so it might be a sound engine queuing issue. I wasn't able to replicate it while standing still.

Coming to the physics, these are quite good. You're basically (as long as you show a modicum of sense) never at risk of being pushed off the Wall by moving blocks, nor getting clipped/caught or falling through them. In all my play I only ever glitched twice: once when reloading and somehow ending up on the outside edge of an extended block (just retract and drop to lower level) and the other time when trying a frankly-impossible jump and ending up caught on on inside edge while it was retracting and the engine couldn't decide whether to toss me off or let me on. After agonising milliseconds and frantic jump/jumpstrafe combos, I clawed my way on.

There's no real slope acceleration/impedance, so like old-school FPSs, there's nothing to stop you crawling and bouncing your way out to the end of a tree and balancing on the furthermost twig by only your toenails like some kind of physics-defying Elf. Or leaping from one tree to another like a demented Elf. It's your call.

The air movement is huuge, almost too good and you can do crazy jumps like the aforementioned vertihopping, jumping in any direction the same height without needing a run up - leaping about the height of your shoulders from a standing start. You should be in Cirque du Soliel! This is good, because you will be doing a lot of jumping in the game.

When you come off, and you will, expect a very Long Dive. Here the procedural generation shines, and the wall zooms past smoothly as you scream into the Abyss. Just for kicks, I let it run and the game was more than happy to keep it up for a minute or two, the buildings and platforms becoming tiny and distant, far, far above. Just for fun, I abused the air movement and moved far out from the wall (trying to hit a clipping plane) and the Wall looks even more impressive from a distance. You can still activate blocks, although they swish past at an alarming rate. Presumably, if you could land safely, you could laboriously make your way back up to where you started, although the mind shudders at the effort required. It ends when you hit Load, Quit, or extend a block far below, and swoop into it to receive your merciful end.

As a tech demo Against the Wall is great, and has solid game elements. At this stage however, there's just so little to do that you get a bit bored after a while. The non-moving blocks/structures are fun, and the coloured ones add a touch of challenge, but the game needs a lot more to draw the player in and make them want to keep going. It shows a lot of promise and will be very interesting to see where Acheron goes with this project.
Last edited by Sgt.Psycho; May 7, 2013 @ 10:32pm
Showing 1-6 of 6 comments
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Zerdath May 7, 2013 @ 9:00pm 
Very nice review. You said a lot of what I thought. I especially agree with your notes on the sound. It is incredibly well done for an Alpha. I personally have never had any popping or clipping issue with it. Been playing it since a040 release, and loving it. Though I still wish he'd bring back the ability to stop blocks in mid-extension. :)
RMJ May 13, 2013 @ 8:51pm 
Awesome to hear. I'm getting more and more excited to play this.
Qon Jun 8, 2013 @ 1:03pm 
Nice review, and hi Psycho are you also here?! :D
This game is among my top 11 on greenlight (my favourites) qompared to the 1100 I've voted down.
Sgt.Psycho Jun 11, 2013 @ 2:06am 
Indeed Qon, and welcome to Greenlight... :P
JoeB666 Aug 4, 2013 @ 2:45pm 
I also just finished playing the Alpha, by the way. I like the game! There's really no limit to how far one could take the concept. Just like with Portal, this works as an "indie" title, but a large studio could also productively pour $20mn into the title, as with Portal 2.)

One suggestion: a compelling narrative could add a great deal to the game. I realize this might not be what the developer is going for. But for me: narratives are one of the largest reasons I play videogames. Portal 2 was made far more compelling by a narrative that "lead you along", trying to figure out what the heck was happening with the game. Portal 1 didn't interest me, as much, because it was just "one damn thing after another" (still a great game, though).

The following is merely a thought experiment:

The question is how to introduce such a narrative. Perhaps an internal monologue like "Dear Ester"? Or even something written (though I would prefer the monologue, because you could solve puzzles while listening, as opposed to having to drop everything to read something). In short, though, I think that a compelling, intelligent, and meaningful (e.g. symbolically rich, but also with some sort of overarching theme(s), etc.) narrative could make make this game incredibly powerful. Also, "retrofitting" such a game with a narrative actually could be very easy. If the game is created as being symbolic, or some kind of "otherworldly" experience, than there are any number of ways that things/critical events in the levels could be explained as "making sense".

There is a reason that the greatest works of virtually all kinds of fiction not only succeeds technically, but also in terms of having one or more meaningful messages (and yes, I consider videogames to be fiction, unless extremely abstract). Tolstoy, etc. all inject one or more themes and messages into their works. The messages tend to be trancendental; they pertain to generalities (e.g. life lessons).

I also noticed myself getting a little "bored" (ever so slightly) while playing the alpha. While music (and some variety in the music) will help, some additional complexities of game mechanics (keep 'em coming!), models, textures, locales, and a narrative would probably help this.

An aside: For the love of all that is holy, do not get rid of the quick save. Please (I hate only having checkpoints)! Also, automatic saving should probably be implemented along with the checkpoint system (e.g., the game saves every 5 min, and it's labelled as an autosave). This ie because I noticed that I'd forget to quicksave, and have to replay a section (maybe others don't have this problem).

Anyhoo, just some thoughts. Keep up the good work. I'll definitely be buying this title.
Last edited by JoeB666; Aug 4, 2013 @ 2:52pm
Derp Sep 2, 2013 @ 12:18pm 
Windows 7 FTW
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