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Wulverblade – Review (PS4)

The past tells the tale of how we got to the present and how we prepare for the future. Human history is ripe with many stories, spanning thousands of years across many peoples. Invention, discovery, and exploration fill out our history texts. Regrettably, as often the case with human nature, prosperous times are followed by bloodshed, violence, and war.

Civilizations rise from the ground up but are felled by others, with their ruins burned into ash. The fires of war oftentimes consume traces of history, leaving stories of courage, bravery, and defeat to be eternally lost to the mysteries of time itself. Though, through the pursuit of knowledge, a people can look deep into their past, beyond the texts, to discover stories never before told. Furthermore, in this day and age, with the rise of interactive entertainment and digital information, stories once lost can now be found. Using today’s technological tools, these stories and the knowledge that they bring can be shared with a new generation of people.

This is the remarkable achievement of a brand-new sidescrolling action game, Wulverblade, from FullyIllustrated and Darkwind Media. The PAX EAST 2017 highlight has made its way to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch owners. After 6 long years, the game has gone live, and the wait was well worth it. Wulverblade will be remembered as one of the best games that 2018 has offered.

Wulverblade is inspired by the real-life stories of ancient Britannia, or what we today call Great Britain. Many thousands of years ago, Britannia was an ancient land of tribes, people who lived among the wilds of nature, learning to live with the land and its spirits. However, like the thunderous sound of lightning, these times were shattered at the hands of The Roman Empire.

The Empire, in all of its hubris and ambition, sailed the elite 9th Legion across the channel, with 5000 strong storming the beaches of Britannia. All who stood in front of the invaders were slain and burned in the name of The Emperor. The Empire knew no limits as men, women, and children had their blood spilled across the fields. Survivors were recruited, shipped out, and forced into the Roman Auxiliary, ending any chances of dissent. All seemed lost and tribes gave up resisting the Romans.

However, for every instance of conquest, there is a fleeting candle of hope. While it starts ass small and frail, it expands into a roaring, untamable fire that can end the lives of even the most brutal of invaders. Caradoc, a guardian of the Northern tribes of Britannia, is the roaring fire of rebellion. Having seen entire villages enslaved at the hands of The Romans, he is determined to rid all of Britannia of the invaders. For him, there is no mercy and he will give no quarter. He will not rest until the Romans are removed from the island. As for the tribes that have submitted to Roman rule, Caradoc has deemed them traitors, deserving of a most painful death.  He is accompanied by an army of his comrades, including his brother and sister, as well as a pack of wolves that he has personally cared for. But deep within Caradoc, there is a special power, that, once unleashed, can overthrow the Romans and push them back into the ocean.

Wulverblade is an arcade-inspired, old-school side-scrolling beat-’em-up video game, set within this violent and chaotic time. Players will be able to star as one of three northern tribesmen, each with their own powers and fighting capability. Over the span of a lengthy campaign, players will fight the Romans all across Britannia, from the woods to the shores. Of course, as per the case with many other arcade brawlers, the objective is to fight your way across the stage, slaying every enemy in sight and defeating bosses.

Players will be encouraged to use absolutely everything as a weapon, including pots, knives, and even the heads of decapitated enemies. This is an all-out war in an ancient world. Players will be able to wield a variety of two-handed weapons, and even initiate a rage mode that allows for temporary invincibility, increased attacks, and health recovery. The strategic use of rage mode is essential to survival, especially for solo players.

Finally, There are also plenty of other surprises for players that are best left to be seen when playing the game. Players can play through the story campaign or arcade mode with up to two players for old-fashioned couch co-op. There is also an arena mode to see who can make it to the highest wave.

Wulverblade employs an impressive visual pallette, even as the action gets intense

The moment I began playing Wulverblade, it became clear that this was not a game but an experience. It felt as if I wasn’t simply witnessing history but effectively living it, and every new level was another chapter.

In Wulverblade, players will feel the sensation that they are being woven into the fabric of history. This is due to the unerring precision of Wulverblade’s creative director Michale Heald.

Mr. Heald employed a razor-sharp team of researchers and creators at his creative studio, FullyIllustrated. Over six years, the team scoured Great Britain, searching the large, vast lands for ancient ruins and battlefields. What they unearthed was astonishing, from stone circles to monuments to ancient weapons. Each asset was photographed, scanned, and left to the artists to construct for Wulverblade.  The team was keen on making every asset look and feel authentic, even as the player fights in the heat of battle. This also includes the game’s use of supernatural assets as Mr. Heald researched the mythos and lore of Britannia.

There were even moments where I was taken aback by the acute sense of artistic direction in Wulverblade. Never since Medal Of Honor: Frontline or Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30 have I seen a game go through such fine-detailed researched and construction. Players are free to view these artifacts in the “unlocks menu” with each item, letter, and monument containing a sizeable explanation from the creative team about the significance of that particular item in ancient history.

Furthering this is the animation of the characters, from their voice work to illustrations. Wulverblade reminded me immensely of the work of Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartovsky, who also helmed the Star Wars Clone Wars shorts in 2005. Characters speak with weight, authority,  and exhaustion as they battle across the stage.

The presentation is further enriched with a growly narrator, who speaks of the matter with a grave tone. Characters feel as if they have depth and weight as well. Cutting into an enemy is ferocious and there is a sensation of feeling as you hack off a soldier’s limb during combat. Players will have access to secondary weapons as well, and the animation allows the player to feel the brute force and weight of a sword crashing down on an ill-fated enemy soldier.

Wulverblade is definitely set for those looking for a challenge

The entire experience is incredibly refined.  Playing Wulverblade is fast, blistering, and visceral. Players will slay hundreds of enemies at any one given time, and watch the carnage unfold in front of them. The boss fights are intense and will require different strategies. Each enemy fought and successfully defeated feels brutal, vengeful, and fierce. Coupled with the amazing orchestral score and stellar presentation, Wulverblade feels more like a profound, triumphant historical cinematic experience on par with Mel Gibson’s Braveheart and Ridley’s Scott’s Gladiator.

If there are any drawbacks that I have with Wulverblade it would have to be one part of the controls. Wulverblade controls very well, though, I had a small conflict with using the shield and dodging. Players can deploy a shield with the circle button. The shield is not invulnerable and players will receive damage, albeit greatly reduced. However, I noticed that my position is locked once the shield is deployed. If I deploy my shield facing the right side of the screen, and an enemy ambushes from the left side, I have to let go of circle to turn around. Oftentimes, I died in this manner, as my mind was locked in a flurry of movement, defense, and offense. Turning while using the shield would have helped.

Additionally, the dodge mechanic is tied with the shield. Players must hold circle and double-tap the left analog stick, either left or right, to dodge roll. I guess the designers wanted there to be more strategic input with using the shield, as it would have been easier to wrap dodge-roll to the right analog stick. Despite this, attacks and counters work very well and that is more of a critiqued issue I have than a glaring flaw.

Wulverblade is more than just a fantastic game. It is a triumphant interactive achievement. As an arcade action game, Wulverblade is a sharply made game. The combat is fierce, the visual presentation is gorgeous, and the overall presentation is very polished. Thanks to the unyielding dedication of its creative team and attention to historical research, Wulverblade becomes an exciting accomplishment that many players and game developers will be discussing for quite some time in the future. Whether you play on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, or Xbox One, make it a goal to join Caradoc in Wulverblade, one of 2018’s best games.

Wulverblade was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 Computer Entertainment System, thanks to the generosity of Dark Wind Media.

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