Frozen Synapse Prime

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Whilst it was only playable on PC at EGX I thought it would be a good opportunity to familiarise myself with what is expected from the upcoming Volume from Mike Bithell, the man behind the incredibly successful and brilliant Thomas was Alone. As someone who is not usually a fan of stealth titles – I lack the patience and discipline required to successfully negotiate through the missions – I was quite interested to see how it would this would play, especially considering how much I enjoyed CounterSpy from Dynamighty.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the title its a near future reinvention of Robin Hood legend, packed with a cracking narrative and some inventive gameplay. The game requires you to out think and out wit the AI and is all about not getting caught. There’s no tackling the guards or going out fighting, you are really going to have to use your brain. It gets very tense in you are caught, you have mere seconds to rescue your situation or you are killed. It is very forgiving though, in that if you do fail the mission it almost instantly restarts the level to let you have another go.

The first mission I played really eases you in. Viewing Locksley from above in a top/down perspective you have to negotiate your way around the room collecting orbs whilst staying out of sight from the enemies. In this first mission the baddies were stationary although I could slide into cover the only means of distraction for me was to whistle in earshot to catch the guards attention and then duck under his view to get past him. All very simple and very effective.

“I wanted to make a stealth game which appealed to all sorts of gamers and beginners” Mike tells me in the Club VIP suite close to the entrance of EGX. “Something for those that wouldn’t normally like stealth games could pick up and get into without it being too hard.”

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This was certainly true of the first level, but how would the second mission I played fare? Again the guards were stationary but a whistle wasn’t going to cut the mustard with grabbing their attention. Fortunately there was an accessory to help me: The Bugle. This is a projectile which was you can launch wherever you want and, once airborne, can be activated and releases an auditable screech which will immediately summon the guard and clear your path, but you only have a few seconds to do it before they revert back to their starting position.

Despite citing the Metal Gear Solid series as an inspiration for the game, Volume also shares similarities with other titles, and one in particular that comes to my mind is Frozen Synapse, with it’s identical perspective and vision fields being a large part of the core gameplay. As the Vita version of Frozen Synapse Prime launched last week I asked Mike if this contributed to the style of Volume at all.

He wryly smiled at me as he acknowledged that it had. “I’m good friends with Paul from Mode 7.” He went on to explain that many indie developers had close connections. “It’s often why you find many indie games releasing at the same time which share similar ideas, we all play each others games!” He went on to explain that the original Frozen Synapse differentiated wall heights by using different coloured blocks. “It was such a good idea that I had to put it into Volume!”

Speaking about other developers, I took the opportunity to ask Mike about the term indie. At which point does an “indie” developer become lose the title and become just a developer? “It’s an interesting question, because there are many games that are indie that aren’t considered indie, but there are games that are viewed as mainstream that could be argued as indie.”

Back to Volume, the third mission was much more difficult that what I had experienced before. Mike reassured me that “what’s in the demo is just to give everyone a taste of what the game includes. The game won’t get as difficult as that for about an hour.” So what was different in the third mission? Well for a start there were more guards, and this time they weren’t stationary. Marching around the room you have very little room to manoeuvre, or that’s what I thought. After failing a few times I then realised that there were some conveniently placed trapdoors on the floor, and with the right timing I could hide in them between the patrols to make my way to this level’s tool: The Folly. Acting as a tripwire you can link it between two walls to momentarily disable the guards long enough to get to where you want to go.

With Volume headed to the Vita I asked about the system specifically. At Gamescom in August Mike presented Volume on stage as part of the PlayStation conference, and I mentioned that effectively he was the only person during the whole presentation to either directly promote a Vita title or even use the word “Vita”. “I’d seen the rehearsals two times before we did the show” he tells me. “I hadn’t even noticed until someone told me afterwards.” I asked him about the Vita’s inputs and whether he feels that they could be used in either Volume of future titles. “The Vita is a great system and has great possibilities, but its difficult to use something without it being too much of a gimmick. If there was a way to do something which felt right, I would consider it.”

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Volume is currently still in development but will launch first on PS4 and PS Vita in 2015, and we will bring you more news as soon as we have it! You can keep up with the news on Volume’s Official Website or you can follow Mike on Twitter.

Are you looking forward to it?

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What a day it has been for me at PAX Prime down in Seattle! I got to see some crazy costumes, a few new games, and even try out a headset – all in all it was a great first day for me, and there’s still things I have yet to check out!

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Curve Digital have been at the forefront for many the great indie ports over the last year, and have really cemented their place as the go-to place for developers looking to bring their titles to the PlayStation platform. They have already brought us Thomas was Alone, Stealth Inc., Lone Survivor, Proteus and also ported Velocity Ultra to the PS3. Their ever-growing reputation has led to them being in control of three more ports simultaneously and as I was really looking forward to seeing what they have been up to, I set off on a warm Tuesday evening to London to meet them.

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Namco Bandai recently served up a demo for Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z more than a month before the game is slated for release in the West. With all progress made in the demo being transferable to the full-release (including achieved trophies which are not yet available) I decided to jump in and to share with you my early experience so that you can decide for yourself whether it’s worth jumping in early, or if you should hold off entirely.