Tag Archive: ravens

Going Deep

One of the big surprises of Sony’s February PS4 reveal was when Capcom showed off their new online multiplayer medieval fantasy game, Deep Down. At least, we thought it was a medieval fantasy game—until, during the events leading up to Tokyo Game Show, we learned that we should maybe stop with all the Dark Souls and Dragon’s Dogma comparisons, and instead look more to Assassin’s Creed.

While much of the game’s action will indeed be set in the past, your character is actually part of Ravens, a special team of people living in 2094 New York. These individuals have the ability to travel back in time to explore eras of interest, although nothing (as of yet) has been said as to why these time periods are on the Ravens’ radar, or how the Ravens actually time travel. So, while a medieval setting will surely be included, that’s not to say the American Revolution or the Renaissance are off the table either.

Deep Down wasn’t done showing itself off, however, and at TGS I was lucky enough to actually get my hands on this fascinating new title while at Sony’s booth.

I began by selecting one of two lance-wielding medieval knights, whose only real differences on the surface seemed to be cosmetic (with one wearing silver armor and the other clad in gold). I chose the more traditional silver, and was brought to a character customization screen with three branches of abilities set before me. I admit my lack of understanding Japanese left me a disadvantage here, but I was able to select three abilities from the first tree, and two more abilities from each of the following two trees.

I was then teleported to what I can only assume to be a level specifically designed for the demo, as the lack of complexity left it wanting, with only a few corridors and enemies to speak of. The level’s detail, however, was a fine testament to next-gen hardware, as every stone in the wall seemed to exist on its own and dynamic lighting and dust particles galore gave me the sense that I was indeed exploring a small section of some ancient dungeon.

As I slowly proceeded down the first corridor—avoiding the fire spewing stone turrets placed at regular intervals—I was confronted by a creature that could best be described as a hairless Rodent of Unusual Size from The Princess Bride standing on its hindquarters. Where the look of the game had first wowed me (and actually continued to do so with how grotesque the creature standing in front of me was), the controls knocked me back down a level as they felt clunky and slow in regards to the combat. I could swing my lance wildly directly in front of me, or aim and thrust forward with the triggers, but I felt like I was fighting both methods as much as I was the ROUS (Rodents of Unusual Size).

The magic spells I blindly picked at least helped, as I could perform a strong 360 degree spin with my lance with one, or throw a variety of magical grenades with another. One grenade was made of light, and exploded after a delay; the other seemed to be a spirit scroll, releasing ethereal energy from its enchanted pages after contacting the ground.

As I continued to explore the level, I stumbled across a couple of hidden passageways that served as shortcuts and slayed another half dozen or so ROUSs before reaching the end goal, marked by a teleportation dais. As I approached the dais, however, a motherly voice began coming through the headset, seemingly speaking to my character. Whether this was a memory of the Raven or of someone from the time period, I’m not really sure, but the voice seemed to haunt me as I drew closer to the demo’s end and added a necessary layer of intrigue for the story.

When all was said and done, the demo was probably less than 15 minutes long—but it gave me a decent idea of what I could expect from combat, regular enemies (no dragons like those pictured above quite yet), and magical powers. The story could potentially be a huge selling point once more details emerge about the Ravens and their purpose. I think the game is visually stunning, and the magic is cool, but melee combat definitely needs more work if Deep Down’s going to be a hit.

I really wish I had gotten more than a thrown-together demo level. I’m curious as to why I was allowed to play something that feels so incomplete and yet clearly will have the complexity you’d expect from most RPGs (at least we hope) in the final product. This isn’t to say I’m disappointed, but I feel like the more I learn about Deep Down, the more questions I have. Only time will tell if the answers are worth the wait.

Revolutionary Ravens

Originally Published: September 13, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com), Examiner.com, and Lundberg.me

I always love to see a game company take a risk and try new things, especially in a recession when you see most developers avoid risks and just develop more proven franchises in the hopes of maximizing profits.

Of course, they are called risks for a reason. Sometimes people may not be receptive to the idea or the execution isn’t as tight as it needs to be and sometimes the idea sounds great until you actually see it implemented. I think Raven Squad for the Xbox 360 and PC falls into that latter category.

The setting is the jungles of Brazil a couple of years from now and you play as a group of six mercenaries who are broken into two groups of three for assault and infiltrating purposes.

You are on what is advertised as a standard mission to take down some local drug runners. It is only later you find out you have been dropped into the middle of a Brazilian Civil War. Now, you have to try and navigate the lush Amazon Rainforest as you dodge bullets and maybe restore a little peace along the way, as you and your squad mates try to find an escape route that doesn’t involve your heads on stakes.

The plot may not be the most original, but when executed properly, everyone loves mercenary first-person shooters. The twist with Raven Squad is that it is also a real-time strategy game.

What? A FPS and RTS all in one game? I know, I did a double take myself when I heard that since I can’t remember it being tried on this scale before.

The good news is that the transition between these modes is flawless and makes for interesting strategy development as you control one of your three man squads from the bird’s eye view of a RTS and move your other squad along the ground from the eyes of Paladin, the squad’s leader.

The problem with the RTS mode is that you can see the entire layout of the land and therefore make your FPS strategy according to that. Since you see where all the enemies are, there is almost no point to the FPS mode since it is so much easier to take out your enemies from RTS view while the enemy A.I. stays in a FPS state the entire time. This additional mode also consumes so much disk space that the graphics in FPS mode are poor at best and the music and voice acting is abysmal.

The defense for this is that the developers say they were aiming to play off the cheesiness of the 1980s movies this was based off, but I have a hard time buying that because cheesy would be a compliment to the poor acting performances given in this game.

Another poor aspect of the game is that there is a nice co-op mode with each person being able handle one of the three man groups, but there is no versus mode where this game needed a 12 player total team vs. team versus mode to really make it worth more than a once playthrough.

So an unoriginal plot mixed with bad peripherals, no versus mode, and an interesting concept usually isn’t enough to garner a buy for a game, but if you were as curious as I was when I heard they were mixing RTS and FPS elements, Raven Squad would probably be a very solid rental for you.

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest.

Graphics: 6.0: The graphics are sub-par for a FPS, but pretty solid for an RTS. Since this combines many of both, but the cut scenes look very poor, I can only give a below average score.

Audio: 4.0: The worst voice acting I have ever heard, hands down. The music is alright and the SFX work, but the voice acting is a constant reminder of nails on a chalkboard.

Plot/Plot Development: 7.5: It is hard sometimes to look at the plot objectively since the dialogue drives most of it and the dialogue isn’t bad, just the people delivering it. So when I finally look at the actual plot, I don’t feel bad about giving it an average score. Nothing original about it, but it makes sense and flows well.

Gameplay: 7.0: A few obvious glitches are annoying, but not enough to take away from the overall experience. The smooth transition from RTS to FPS mode and back are nice, but the execution, especially in FPS mode, is average at best.

Replay Value: 4.0: Aside from a co-op multiplayer mode, there really isn’t a lot to bring you back for this game. A versus mode would have been fantastic and no collectibles to speak of really means this game doesn’t offer a lot to bring you back for.

Overall (not an average): 6.0: Like I said at the beginning of the article, I love it when game developers take risks on games with different ideas. Unfortunately not all of them pan out the way they were originally imagined. The concept of a RTS/FPS game is great, but once executed, you see that the game is just too simple as you can use it to basically cheat as the A.I. operates in a FPS mode the entire way through. When you can see the enemy and they can’t see you, it is very easy to win.

Raven Squad is available now for Xbox 360 and PC.

-Ray Carsillo