What we're playing: 'Wipeout', 'Dead Cells' and 'Danger Zone'

What we're playing: 'Wipeout', 'Dead Cells' and 'Danger Zone'
From Engadget - July 17, 2017

Danger Zone

When Danger Zone was first announced, I was overjoyed: Someone had finally made a standalone version of Burnout's Crash Mode. I had not played the multi-car-pileup-simulator minigame since Burnout 3: Takedown on the original Xbox, so my anticipation was high. Careening through intersections, trying to engineer the most expensive pileup possible, was a catharsis not even the GTA games provided more than a decade ago. But now, having played Danger Zone, I have found that my lust for automotive mayhem has barely been sated.

The good news is that the game absolutely succeeds in nailing Crash Mode's fundamentals. How it does that is not surprising: Developer Three Fields Entertainment is composed of veterans Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry, from Burnout's original developer, Criterion Games -- they know what makes Burnout, well, Burnout.

Online leaderboards and Unreal Engine 4powered graphics definitely make it feel like a modern game, but for better and for worse, Danger Zone's nuts and bolts are trapped in the past. I was initially caught off guard by the complete lack of music. There is not even a placeholder song playing at the main menu or a looped butt-rock guitar riff during gameplay, just generic car crash sound effects. To be fair, Takedown is silent as well, and its pop-punk soundtrack is available only in menus and campaign races. But that game came out over a dozen years ago.

Another bummer is that, regardless of whether I was flying off a ramp and onto a busy highway or cruising through a simple four-way intersection, each successive challenge felt the same, because everything in Danger Zone takes place within a simulation. This means you can finally crash into a school bus in a driving game, but the downside is a sense of monotony because everything looks the same: dark, dingy and gray. I realize that the game is a $13 downloadable from a small team, but a little visual variety would have gone a long way toward keeping things fresh. Local multiplayer is absent too, which feels like an egregious omission.

I am having fun with Danger Zone in half-hour bursts, sure, but more than anything, it made me glad I still have my OG Xbox and copy of Takedown.

Dead Cells

Every time I open Steam, I am confronted by a rundown of the hours I have spent playing each game, and reminded that I probably should not buy any more roguelikes. I lose myself in these games, and have over a dozen in my library that I have sunk more than 24 hours into. The two worst playtime totals are for FTL and Nuclear Throne, which I have somehow played for 271 hours combined. More than 11 days of my life, lost forever. Despite this self-awareness, I just ca not help but find more and more games to dive into. My latest obsession is Dead Cells, a roguelike that was released on Early Access back in May.

I first played Dead Cells way back at Eurogamer's EGX event last fall, and I was immediately taken with its premise. It essentially blends classic 2D "Metroidvania" gameplay with roguelike traits. It's probably better described as a "roguelite" -- yes, when you die, you start back at the very beginning, but there is some light progression through the many, many unsuccessful runs, with new weapons and items to unlock and upgrade and a couple of skills that will help you gain access to new areas. You start each run with randomized items, and "unlocking" a weapon adds it to the list of items that can be dropped by enemies or found in chests.

It shares some common DNA with another favorite of mine, Rogue Legacy, but what stands out is its fluid combat. Dead Cells really nails the fundamentals, with gorgeous art and sound design, dozens of weapons that all handle differently, and an ever-expanding array of enemy types that combine to kill you in new and imaginative ways. Keeping everything fresh is some light procedural generation: Each playthrough has set levels linked by the same divergent paths, but layouts and enemy placements change with each playthrough.

It's been only two months, but I have already racked up 50 hours in this game. I just ca not recommend it enough. The content and level of polish present in Dead Cells at launch was more than worth the $17 price tag, and with each and every update it's become a bigger, better game. Once it's finally complete, here's hoping for a Switch release so I can be unproductive on the bus as well as at my desk.

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