Hearthstone plays its cards right
REVIEWED: Hearthstone - Heroes of Warcraft; Metal Gear Solid V - Ground Zeroes; Kinect Sports Rivals
COLLECTIBLE card games in the real world seem to appeal to obsessive types who never grew out of the juvenile habit of Top Trumps or Match Attax.
But the wizards at Blizzard prove that CCGs can be fast-moving, dramatic and easily understood by regular gamers. After a long beta last year and a successful launch on PC/Mac last month, Hearthstone flips onto iPad with barely a stutter.
Best of all, it’s free to play while resisting the insidious and grasping excesses of that genre. You can play – no, you WILL play – Hearthstone for many hours, many weeks even and never feel the need to spend a bean on in-app purchases.
It earns itself a readymade audience and the warm affection of newcomers by basing its characters on the much-loved World of Warcraft universe. Every card, every animation, every sound effect bursts with personality and humour, instantly recognisable from their origins in WoW. Welcome back, Garrosh Hellscream, Thrall et al, we’ve missed you.
The structure is typical of most CCGs – though streamlined for the novice, it still packs of mammoth level of depth for veterans. You choose of one of nine heroes – mage, priest, druid, etc - and draw action cards at random while taking turns with your opponent to cast spells, launch attacks and juggle your minions’ positions. Last one standing wins.
The strategy flows from the ability to build your own 30-strong deck of cards – earned or bought from the stack of almost 400 in the game – offering fantastic customisation and tactical possibilities.
Sooner or later, you may feel the compunction to buy a booster pack (starting at €2.69) or shell out to enter competitions (€1.79) – but it never turns the game into pay to win, nor is it actually mandatory.
Dampening all this euphoria, though, is the need to be constantly online and occasional lagginess that indicates temporary server troubles – you can tackle practice matches against the CPU but most games will be played against real, live humans.
FOR some, the Metal Gear Solid series represents a high watermark in twisted storytelling. For many others (myself included), the bloated, pretentious plotting plays second fiddle to the superior stealth gameplay.
Ground Zeroes is a peculiar animal, essentially a demo of a forthcoming MGS instalment called Phantom Pain. But most importantly it largely ignores plot in favour of a stealth sandbox in the form of a military base to be infiltrated.
Yes, there’s a labyrinthine backstory, which includes a breathtakingly misjudged audio tape featuring rape. It comes across as gratuitous despite the war-is-hell justification.
But what exposition there is remains secondary to the interplay of systems that make the base fascinating to explore. Stealth mixes easily with all-out attack in a gorgeous landscape and Ground Zeroes doesn’t care which method you use.
The main mission takes no more than two hours to complete, though, with a handful of side errands in the same locale bulking out the package. True, it’s half the price of a full game but comes with probably less than a tenth of the content of many. Whether this equation adds up for you depends on your appetite for all things MGS.
YOU might reasonably ask whether Kinect has yet justified its mandatory inclusion in the Xbox One package. In Ireland at least we’re still missing the speech recognition (and other TV-related features) that would make it compelling.
KSR shoots for the family-fun demographic by leveraging Kinect’s motion-tracking but a combination of inaccuracy and an odd selection of mini-games leave it short of the target.
Like Kinect Sports before it, KSR envisages a living room full of all ages taking turns at amusing full-body action. This time, we’re trying our hands (and legs, etc) at jetski-riding, rock climbing, tennis, target-shooting, bowling and soccer.
Each is recreated with varying success and demands on your stamina. Jetski-riding requires keeping your arms out straight as if clutching handlebars – the short races showcase how subtle Kinect can be but proves the most tiring. Soccer involves little motion – passing from one player to another before shooting – but Kinect regularly misinterprets your body movement.
Making you wade through a long series of events to unlock every sport was also a mistake, the shtick of rival factions competing to get you on their side quickly wearing thin.
The bottom line is that, when it works, KSR can be a lot of fun. The trouble is, as a next-gen game, it doesn’t do it often enough to justify a full-price purchase.