is the brainchild of Keiji Inafune, a man most famously known for the Mega Man
series. His latest studio, Comcept, teamed up with Armature Studios, a team that is made up of veterans of the Metroid Prime
franchise to develop this "open world 3D adventure". The game gives the studios a chance to move away from their most famous creations, including the blue robot and the sidescrolling platforming for which he is known, but will it be their next big hit? Everything relies upon Joule, who not only has the future of Earth's population on her shoulders but also the future of Microsoft's exclusive new IP.
Earth's population has been destroyed by a deadly disease, the Dust Devil, leaving the future of the human population hanging on a fleet of pioneering ships that have been sent to Far Eden on a mandate project. Joule is one of the first humans to attempt to transform the planet into a viable human settlement, but when she awakens after hundreds of years in cryosleep, she finds that nothing is going to plan. The planet is ravaged by deadly storms and the terraforming of the planet's surface is far behind schedule. However, the discovery of a powerful prismatic core has the potential to put things back on track, something that Joule sets out to do.
To get things back on track, Joule must travel through a number of dungeons to restart key pieces of equipment and find more cores to power them up. Along the way she will encounter a couple of NPCs who appear so briefly that they're not given any time to shine. Instead, Joule must rely upon a selection of companion corebots to keep her company. She begins with her K-9 frame Mack, who can dig up hidden objects as well as fight alongside her. Later on she is joined by the SP-DR, AP-3 and FL1-R frames that each have their own useful special ability. The problem is that each frame must be powered by a personality core and there are only three of those, so players must decide which of the four frames must lie unused. The cores can be easily swapped between the frames at Joule's Crawler safe hub so that decision is never permanent, but it does lead to some issues.
Not only must one frame always lie unused, but Joule can only be accompanied by two of her companion corebots at any one time. No, we never find out why. There is nothing more frustrating than travelling across the game's open landscape, only to reach your destination and find that you don't have the correct corebot in your party that you need to progress further. The dungeons avoid this by displaying any frame at the dungeon entrance that is required to make it to the end. If you're near a fast travel point, your choice of companions can be swapped around but only between the active frames. If you need the inactive frame, you need to return to Joule's crawler to swap the cores around before making the journey back to that point and always with respawned enemies to encounter again.
Looking for prismatic cores that have been carelessly discarded in the sand
Once your companions are sorted, the title's campaign provides the most satisfying gameplay as players are taken through areas that require a mix of platforming and vanquishing enemies. With Joule's double jump and dash abilities, players can traverse large gaps and scale deceptively high terrain using controls that always feel responsive. Mistakes always feel like your mistiming or inaccurate aiming, rather than any fault of the game. This ability to get almost anywhere becomes useful for the game's fetch quests, which often involve finding robotic power cells in strange places and returning them to the door that needs to be opened.
The ability to double jump and dash is also very useful when in combat, seeing as most enemies can ignore your pitiful attempts at taking cover and it is often best to keep moving. Enemy design is mostly limited to larger versions of your companion corebots, although they also have a more intimidating appearance. They're divided into colour types and only a certain colour of laser will be effective against them. By using the d-pad to match the colour of Joule's rifle fire to the colour of the enemy, she will deal more damage. Combat becomes intense when faced with multiple enemies of different colours, meaning that players must learn to switch colours quickly as mismatched fire can often be as effective as throwing stones at a tank. Like the game's enemies, Joule's companion corebots also have a colour personality and matching these to the enemy will also make them more effective in combat.
Auto-aim allows players to lock their shots to a target and theoretically makes it easier to cause more damage. The flick of
is supposed to allow players to switch targets, but this doesn't always work when there are many enemies in play. If another enemy also crosses in front of your target, auto-aim has a tendency to switch to the new enemy without player input, leading to a much reduced rate of damage if the colour is different and frustrated shouts of "Not THAT one!" Auto-aim can be disabled if players wish to have more freedom during combat.
You may be firing lasers of a single colour, but death takes the form of many more
Once you get to a key point in the campaign, players are faced with a long level that is divided up into floors. To reflect the sharp and deceptive increase in the game's difficulty at this point, each of these floors are gated by a door that needs a higher number of prismatic cores and a high character level to allow progression. This design decision brings the campaign's momentum to a sudden and jarring halt; unless players have already explored the open world for a fair amount of time, the chances are that most will need to head back out into the open sandbox to either level up or to find the required cores that are scattered around the land.
Players can meet these requirements either through exploring the open world or by completing the game's optional extra dungeons. Unlike the story dungeons, these take one of three forms: Traversal (platforming), Arena (combat only), or Adventure, which are a watered-down version of the campaign dungeons. The number of cores and the required level to access these dungeons also reflects their difficulty. To add an extra challenge to players, they all have secondary objectives to add to the primary objective of making it to the end. Shooting eight coloured switches, finding the yellow key and completing the dungeon in a strict time limit will result in better rewards at the end of the dungeon; while optional, completing these dungeons and their challenges is necessary if you want all of the game's achievements.
These dungeons are not for the faint at heart, requiring speed, precision and sometimes a little luck, and will likely be the decider when it comes to completing the game. While you can choose to travel back to the start of the dungeon once you reach the end, unfortunately there is no way to restart the dungeon if you mess up mid-way through. This is especially frustrating if you're unlucky enough to get caught in one of the infinite spawn-death loops that can occur upon falling to your death in a Traversal dungeon. Instead of placing players upon a safe platform (they do exist) after falling to their death, players are often placed upon a platform with an electric trap, leading to immediate shocking and plummeting from the platform. When in this position, the only way to extract yourself is to teleport to Joule's Crawler before fast travelling back to the start of the dungeon. It's an obvious oversight that would lessen the pain of the dungeons for many people.
You'll need to find all 85 of these
Despite clocking in at eight hours in length, players learn very little of how Joule came to be on Far Eden and the purpose of the mandate project through the campaign; in fact, most of the plot's details are fleshed out through a collection of 40 audio logs that can be found scattered about the world. These are just one type of the many, many collectibles to be found throughout the environment. There are also 85 prismatic cores, over 300 blueprints, approximately 30 health upgrades and about 500 hardware pickups to find, and they're often in places that appear difficult to reach. If you hate collectibles then you will likely despise this game seeing as collecting is the other main purpose of the open world exploration.
At least the majority of the collectibles have a purpose. While both Joule and her companion corebots can level up through combat to become obviously more powerful, they can also receive upgrades. Joule's only upgrade is the ability to increase her health through the pickups, but there is more flexibility with the companion corebots. Each blueprint allows players to create a new part of a frame for their corebot, as long as they have the correct hardware pickups to allow them to build it. Not only can the hardware be picked up from the open world, it can also be gained by completely destroying the different enemies that are encountered. The corebots' attributes can be upgraded too, although this uses the energy from different coloured cores that are extracted from enemies. Players can either extract a core from an enemy or they can destroy it for hardware -- never both -- meaning that decisions have to be made in the heat of the moment before your companion corebot makes the decision for you.
While I've already mentioned a couple of the game's bugs and questionable design decisions, it would be remiss of me not to mention any of the others. The first and most noticeable of these is the game's loading times. These can range from a couple of seconds if you happen to be near to your respawn point, to a few minutes to load a new area or to reload your spawn point from a couple of rooms back. During my numerous attempts to defeat one notable boss, at least a third of my playtime was spent in loading screens. I've also had sound cutting out and visual bugs like cameras clipping through objects and the floor, or collectibles that disappear and then reappear upon reloading. During combat, enemy attacks have pushed Joule out of the playable area so that she has been firmly wedged in the nearby scenery, while other enemies have instantly respawned upon death because I hadn't pushed past an invisible trigger point before they were defeated.
Maybe if we take this one apart, we can build a T8-NK
Other players have been reporting other bugs, but there is one omission that really makes it obvious that the game was rushed to release. In the logo picture at the top of the page, you'll notice that there is a fifth companion corebot. This is the T8-NK frame but he's not in the game yet, even though there is a space for him in the companions area of the game's menu. As he is needed to access some areas of the map, this also makes those areas inaccessible for now. Whether he will become available later as a free update or paid DLC remains to be seen.
Finally, we reach the most important part of the review for many -- the achievements. Theoretically, all of the achievements are obtainable. I say this because many members of the community have reported that their achievements have stopped tracking their progress in the game, although it isn't something that has happened to me personally and I now have every finger crossed. Assuming that your achievements track as normal, there are the usual story-related achievements and achievements for character progression and upgrades, including ones for maxing Joule's rifle at level 30 and a getting friendly corebot to the same level. You will need to find every single one of the game's many, many collectibles, during which time you will also complete every dungeon once and dig up 20 items with the K-9 frame. Finally, there are combat related achievements, such as getting a combo of 40, extracting cores and using lethal attacks. Some of the dungeons will take skill and the collectibles will definitely take a lot of time even with a guide, so this completion is not for the faint at heart.
is a game that had so much potential on the surface and initially gave a very positive impression. The platforming is accurate and satisfyingly responsive, while the combat scratches an itch for those with a taste for the frantic. Unfortunately the game has issues that need solving, not least with the achievement tracking. The campaign is the best part of the game but is halted in its tracks by gates that require players to grind before they can pass. The sole purpose of the game's open world is to be filled with collectibles, while the optional dungeons are inferior versions of their campaign counterparts. Long loading times and other smaller bugs interrupt flow and disrupt the player experience. Then there's the problem of the missing content. If ever a game felt like it was rushed to release, it is this one.
- Responsive and challenging platforming
- Satisfying combat
- Long loading times
- Many different bugs
- Missing content
The reviewer spent over 30 hours jumping across tiny platforms and revising her colour wheels. The collectibles sent her cross-eyed, but she managed to earn 34 of the game's 53 achievements before that happened. A Play Anywhere version of the game was provided by the publisher, but the game was played solely on the Xbox One for the purpose of this review.