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Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Alvion
Release Date: Feb. 21, 2017

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PS4 Review - 'Malicious Fallen'

by Brian Dumlao on Feb. 28, 2017 @ 2:30 a.m. PST

Malicious is a 3D action combat game, featuring painterly, ethereal visuals and frenetic, boss battle-centric gameplay.

The original Malicious was a PSN title that you either loved or hated. It was a rare modern game that was laser-focused on doing just one thing, and for some people, it did that one thing well. It was also a game that had a very light story and a short play time once you got past the initial difficulty. It also sharply divided critics, but it was successful enough to earn a quasi-sequel for the Vita. The PS4 has been out for a few years, so the series returns with Malicious Fallen, another quasi-sequel to the previous two games that adds content but doesn't do much to change the minds of those who dismissed the first or second titles.

You play the role of a Spirit Vessel, a silent being that is tasked with being the guardian of the world. There are a host of malicious spirits that threaten life itself, and a few of the elder beings have given you a weapon known as the Mantle of Cinders. It is an underpowered weapon, as it is the remnant of a much stronger weapon whose powers have been scattered and guarded by a few of these monsters. Your initial job is to recover the weapon's former glory before setting off to save the world.

What you may be surprised about is the fact that the story plays such an insignificant role in the overall game. You'll get a generic blurb from the elders about how the enemy forces are gathering as you beat levels, but that's about it. There are no cut scenes or enemy descriptions given throughout your journey. The most you get is a prologue on the events that transpired to get you there, but that's really it.

Malicious Fallen is structured in a way that few may expect. You're presented with five stages, and each one can be tackled in any manner you want. The stages are more like arenas, as you're immediately engaged in a boss fight with a 30-minute time limit, and you have to fight through at least two different boss phases. There are still minions present, but their only purpose is to occasionally attack you while you easily kill them and farm them for Aura, an element that's used in a variety of ways, including strengthening your attacks or for self-healing. Defeat those five stages, and a sixth one will open up to reveal the final boss.

You'll notice that I referred to Malicious Fallen as a "quasi-sequel" instead of a full-fledged one. That's because the game is essentially a remaster of the original PS3 entry. Vita players will recognize that this was also done to Malicious Rebirth, where a new set of six bosses was added after the initial six were defeated. The Vita levels have also been ported over, and the PS4 iteration gets six new stages of its own and a new mode that throws multiple bosses at you at once. This makes Malicious Fallen more of an ultimate director's cut, since it has everything that the previous games possess and then some. For series veterans, the drawback is that you'll still have to go through all of the old content before you'll finally see the new stuff.

Your abilities are pretty basic from the start. You have the means to do a triple-jump and dash away or perform a basic block for defense. For offense, you can use large energy fists or a curved projectile to hurt your foes. Defeating enemies is the only way to open up more powers, which include wings to facilitate flight, an upgrade to a 6x jump, a sword, and a lance few. While all of those things need to be unlocked, the outfits for the Spirit Vessel do not. New to this game, the outfits allow you to slightly improve your defenses or attack power while sacrificing other aspects, like movement speed.

One would expect a game that consists only of boss fights to be difficult from the get-go. On that front, Malicious Fallen doesn't disappoint. The very bare-bones tutorial system covers movement basics and lets you muck around with the controls, but you need to dig deeper and endure the somewhat-slower pace of the more advanced tutorials in order to master some of the nuances. Even then, your limited resources mean that you'll be getting used to things the first few times you fight any boss. You've got a limited pool of continues, so it's not appealing to be resurrected and continue the fight against a boss that killed you, unless they're down to the last sliver of health.

At some point, the game suddenly clicks, and you'll find yourself switching between weapon forms to take care of both minions and bosses alike. You'll dodge the big boss attacks while looking for a good opening to get in a few shots. You'll walk up walls and discover that the stages are much larger due to the amount of vertical space. It can't be called graceful, but you will do an equal amount of hitting and acrobatics for just about every fight.

Interestingly, the easiest way to knock down bosses is also the most boring way: your projectile attack. With the exception of later bosses, just about everyone can be taken down with large circle strafing and constant fire from your projectiles. Even when they're powered up, the projectiles aren't the strongest weapon to use against a boss whose energy meter already seems daunting, but after getting clobbered for the umpteenth time, you'll be glad to make some progress.

There are a few other issues that hurt the game's fun factor. Instead of using a health meter, your overall well-being is determined by the number of limbs left on your person. It's a pretty interesting way of reading your well-being, but the level of camera zoom and your long, flowing clothes make that difficult to determine, so you'll wait until the last minute to heal since a constant cracked screen and red flashing means you're one hit away from death.

Speaking of the camera, it is fairly decent when you're locked onto a boss, but at any other time, you'll constantly mess with it and hope that it doesn't stutter if it hits environmental objects. The counter-attack system also has issues. It's a great idea t have the correct positioning and weapon at the ready to initiate a counter-attack should a boss hit a certain attack, but it's annoying that the prompt to hit the Circle button will always appear but do nothing once it's been hit.

Beyond the boss fights, the other modes come with online leaderboards and are strictly for those who want to be competitive. Free Play mode lets you practice with any of the bosses you've previously defeated, except with all of your powers intact. Score Attack lets you fight for a higher score that's determined by four factors (completion time, enemies killed, highest chain completed, and limbs lost), all of which come with their own letter grade. Time Attack aims for exactly what you expect, as your job is to beat the boss as quickly as possible.

Graphically, Malicious Fallen has a few improvements over the PS3 original. There are a few more particle effects floating around in some of the environments, and the game is locked at 60fps at all times. It's impressive that this doesn't waver, even after the screen is flooded with loads of minions, a boss and other effects. Elsewhere, the painted style lends itself well to the game, as every element looks gorgeous even if it hasn't changed much from the original iteration. Character designs for your outfits and the bosses are excellent, and the whole thing looks good in motion. While not exactly a marquee title in terms of looks, it's still a good display of what art can do for a game.

While the graphics have improved, the sound has regressed a bit. The music is actually a strong point, as the type of action fantasy vibe you'd expect from the setting is present. It works very well for each and every stage. Voice acting is kept to a minimum and relegated to mumbling from the elders that govern you, while some enemies speak in a native tongue that has no subtitles. It isn't necessary to have subtitles, since they would translate into taunts, but for a game that's light on narrative, any little bit would've helped. The sound effects are the game's weak link, as half of them are absolutely fine while the other half sounds muffled, like healing and your projectile fire.

Much like its predecessors, Malicious Fallen is a game with a good idea and less-than-stellar execution. Since it has three times the amount of content when compared to the original and doesn't feel painfully short now, it's easier to accept the idea of a title consisting of nothing but boss fights. The general combat feels fine if you aren't fighting the camera or befuddled by some difficult-to-read systems for your abilities and stats. As mentioned earlier, those who didn't like the original title won't be swayed by this entry, but those who have played the previous two games will find it difficult to justify the $30 asking price when they have to replay two-thirds of the content again. However, Malicious Fallen can be an intriguing game if you're tired of the current offerings on the market.

Score: 6.5/10

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