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September 10, 2014

Xbox One Review – Lococycle (2013)

by Master Pillow

Have you ever gone to a comedy club only to find a presenter whose jokes keep falling flat?   This is Lococycle in a nutshell as the entire product just feels like a next to total train wreck and gamers are going to fear that playing it will result in their spanking new Xbox One consoles bursting into flames.

There’s no other way to say it – Developer Twisted Pixel’s Lococycle is just plain LOCO.  It is one thing to try and be quirky in terms of plot and gameplay but that doesn’t always translate into a quality product and unfortunately, this is one example where this comes to pass.  From the very moment the game starts many are going to feel a strong sense of déjà vu, almost as if they had mysteriously been transported back in time to the infamous first few years of the Sega-CD.  Gamers who have been around during those “glory” years will surely remember one of the biggest marketing points of the Sega-CD was that the add-on peripheral would finally meld cinema with games and the result were “classics” like Night Trap and Sewer Shark.

Looking back at this era it isn’t hard to understand why studio execs went this route in attempting to meld full-motion-video (FMV) sequences featuring “real” actors with games as it has always been the goal of many to somehow combine the two mediums.  Unfortunately, the resulting products were just plain awful as the addition of badly written and acted live-action video coupled with downright pedestrian gameplay resulted in a toxic mix that would cause anyone to hurl their lunch into the nearest latrine.  Thankfully, smarter minds prevailed and these types of games quickly disappeared, hopefully buried in a giant landfill next to all those Atari E.T. cartridges.

Flash-forward to the present and here is developer Twisted Pixel’s Lococycle and lo and behold it seems someone at the studio was a big fan of all those FMV-filled “games” on the Sega-CD as this new title might as well be their spiritual successor.

lococycle_02

In Lococycle, players take control of a slightly-wacked out futuristic motorcycle named I.R.I.S. whose programming becomes unstable due to a convenient lightning bolt hit.  Seemingly experiencing a massive short-circuit, I.R.I.S. becomes self-aware and convinced that she needs to drive to Scottsburg, Indiana where all her dreams will come true.  Before she can depart her mechanic friend, Pablo, somehow manages to get his leg caught in her chassis but that’s no problem as she merrily speeds off unceremoniously pulling the poor man along with her.

As the reluctant dynamic duo race towards their intended destination they are continuously pursued by a throng of enemies from the requisite bad company’s henchmen to motorcycle gangs but I.R.I.S. has a ton of tricks up her sleeve consisting of machine guns, side grenade launchers and the fact that she can somehow mimic a Transformer and partially turn into a flying robot.  Even Pablo gets into the action as I.R.I.S. can somehow throw him like a giant Frisbee so that he can knock enemies out of the sky or use his handy wrench to allow her to regain needed health.

If that preceding paragraph reads “funny” it’s because Lococycle is the type of product that will cause gamers to shout “WTF!” at every turn but instead of somehow achieving a “so bad its good” level ends up being all bad.  Twisted Pixel should at least be given props in attempting something so ridiculously audacious but this is one example where everyone involved was surely suffering from intoxicated group think as virtually every aspect of the title is beyond reproach.  The mere sight of watching poor Pablo be dragged on his back over the road will cause gamers to immediately disengage with the title but it surely gets worse as the luckless mechanic survives falls from hundreds of feet without a scratch while also being able to catch missiles with just his bare hands.

The totally madcap plot seems purposely constructed to progressively become even more demented and in the later stages of the game some truly bizarre enemies are introduced such as a bunch of scientists trapped in giant electric metal balls that appear very much like hamsters stuck in a wheel.  Other ridiculous elements include S.P.I.K.E., a Harley-Davidson-inspired motorcycle rival to I.R.I.S. who inexplicably decides to pick up a rotund trailer-trash woman that so happens to also get her leg stuck in his chassis or the totally weird FMV sequences also featuring S.P.I.K.E. eating ice cream.  It’s downright mind-numbing and though it is obvious that developer Twisted Pixel is trying to craft an idiosyncratic narrative it just doesn’t engage and comes across as nothing more than a series of random ideas that have been callously mashed together in the hope that it all somehow gels.

Lococycle combines live-action full-motion video cutscenes with quirky gameplay which breaks down into approximately 75% motorcycle racing/combat and 25% quick-time-events/minigame sequences.  The game is a whopping 13GB download and it quickly becomes apparent that the bulk of this requirement comes from the tortuous FMV cutscenes, the biggest offender being the almost 15 minute opening that represents the absolute worst avenue in which to make a good first impression.  It is nigh unfathomable how anyone thought this material could in anyway come across as being funny and most gamers will probably be pounding their controllers hoping to somehow skip this sequence as soon as possible.

lococycle_03

Even if one were to totally ignore all the FMV sequences as plain cheese the fact remains that the underlying gameplay is incredibly half-baked.  The core motorcycle driving feels far too loose and twitchy and one never gets comfortable with it as it always appears that I.R.I.S. is floating a few inches above the road.  Making matters worse, the game has the bad tendency of throwing sharp corner turns without much warning which, coupled with the erratic controls, usually results in much rail riding.

Conceptually, Lococycle feels very much like a combination of Road Rash and Spyhunter sans anything remotely fun.  Melee fighting never feels visceral because of the floaty movement, causing punches and kicks to have no weight behind them.  Even I.R.I.S.’s machine guns and rockets don’t work as intended as the game routinely forbids their use or ignores them completely.  This is incredibly frustrating as there are sequences which force gamers to use I.R.I.S. to melee enemies even though she can clearly hang back and shoot them.  Other times the game arbitrarily just disables their functionality even though there is nothing to indicate that enemies caused their malfunction.

If this weren’t bad enough, the game has far too many QTE sections, most of which cannot be failed even if a player purposely mistimed every button or analog stick press.  While few gamers actually like this mechanic the fact that you can’t fail is extremely deflating as the only real consequence is a lower score.

QTEs are supposed to occur in sequences where there is a plethora of complex camera movement that would be too hard to properly navigate with traditional controls.  At the same time, the snazzy camera angles are meant to provide a more cinematic approach to a particular sequence.  Therefore, QTEs should be used sparingly and only to highlight one particular sequence but here in Lococycle they are employed in regular movements such as counters which means the pre-canned camera movement keeps repeatedly playing and it quickly becomes incredibly mundane to rewatch the exact same action over and over again. Most games which employ QTEs at least try to up the difficulty by forcing gamers to chain press a series of buttons while moving the analog sticks.  Not so here where many of the QTEs are nothing more than a singular button press such as the melee counter.

lococycle_01

Much negativity has been hurled at Lococycle for being an ugly game and akin to something one expects more from the Playstation 2 or Dreamcast.  That’s just sheer hyperbole as the game isn’t that bad in the graphics department but it is nonetheless the undisputed worst-looking launch title for the Xbox One.  The game runs smoothly with no apparent drop in framerate but that’s to be expected considering it lacks complex geometry or next-gen effects.  Seriously, nothing on the system comes close to Lococycle’s last-gen visual prowess and it quickly becomes apparent that this was a title that was originally meant only for the Xbox 360 and was merely shoved out the door for Microsoft’s new console to pad the launch line-up.

The game does have a decent RPG-inspired leveled system where points are earned every mission that can be exchanged for better skills and stats like increasing health or boosting weapon fire rates.  It’s not exactly deep but at least players can easily see the fruits of their labor as the effects are obvious in the following stages.

Lococycle is not a very good game although it certainly is not the worst you’ve ever played.  The game mechanics never really come together and the plot continuously attempts to outdo itself in the bizarre department but the wisecracking short-circuited I.R.I.S. is seriously more annoying than funny and the decision to have Pablo continuously speak only in Spanish with English subtitles never works as intended because he too has nothing pertinent to say except complain for the entire runtime.

Listening to this “dynamic” duo is like sitting next to two cats as they claw their way all over a chalkboard and the game itself even has the audacity to warn gamers about turning off their voices in a blasted splash-screen.  Do yourself a favour and turn off the sound.  On second thought, don’t even buy the game and wait for Microsoft to inevitably make it free for Xbox Live Gold subscribers.  Lococycle is clearly the worst game developer Twisted Pixel has ever produced and one hopes that they can somehow rebound from this disastrous train wreck.

*1/2 out of ****

Developer: Twisted Pixel

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Released US: 11/22/2013

Released EU: 11/22/2013

© 2014 The Galactic Pillow

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