A quest for revenge commences when your son is killed for refusing to take the Empire`s orders to drop a nuclear bomb on a city. Your airplane will be the tool to take down those who betrayed your descendant, so make yourself comfortable, as it will also be your mean to survive this battle, while you master time-altering gameplay mechanics. Bringing justice to your son is an oath your have sworn to keep. You will not be fighting for yourself or for your nation, but for the memories of your child, whose body now lies seven feet under the ground.
This is the premise behind Sine Mora Ex, a 2.5D shoot `em up game developed by Digital Reality, Grasshopper Manufacture and Gyroscope Games. THQ Nordic published this title, releasing it on August 8. It is available for the Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. You can purchase this product on the PlayStation Store for $19.99.
With an intriguing story, the universe of Sine Mora Ex provides you with dazzling visuals, but does it all come together to create a compelling experience? Let`s analyse the most important aspects of this game to find out.
The narrative of Sine Mora Ex aims to tell two stories that take place in the same locations but in different time periods, with one leading to the events of the other. The first portrays the quest of a father to avenge his dead son, who was executed by the Empire after refusing to nuke a city. The second plot consists of survivors of the Enkie, a race that was nearly brought to extinction by the Empire, as they make their final effort to take down the Empire. In this title, a clear theme emerges: revenge. This seems as an interesting premise, but unfortunately, the narrative is the weak link in the chain of elements that compose this game. The story is good, but the way the developers tell it is not. Let's see why.
The first few seconds of this production expose a fatal flaw in its storytelling. The experience opens with a black screen and a character narrating some segments of his background story, as you can see in the video above. This betrays the most basic rule of storytelling: show do not tell. To make matters worse, this is the most used technique to deliver the background story in this game. Admittedly, it would be difficult to create videos to display the events described in the narration, but developers could have opted for a cheap solution. A prime example is Borderlands 2, a game in which the story starts with an exposition to contextualize you, as displayed in the video below.
If the developers of Sine Mora Ex had presented their story visually, as Boderlands 2 did, it would have a greater chance of capturing your attention, but as you only stare at white letters against a black background, it is difficult to remain engaged in the narration. Using 2D arts would have been a cheap and effective way of making the introduction of the game and its subsequent narrative design more captivating. It is unfortunate that the decision of relying on narrated exposition dumps persists throughout most of the game, terminating the potential of a story that is interesting but poorly told.
Score for the story/narative design: 5
Sine Mora Ex is a shoot`em up game that falls into the subcategory of "bullet hell,", meaning that you will constantly need to dodge dozens of projectiles while trying to hit the enemies. To ease your burden, this title features gameplay mechanics that allow you to slow down time, giving you the chance to evade the attacks of your foes. You must beat the level in a certain amount of time, but when you perform a kill, you gain some extra seconds and when you take a hit, you lose some seconds. If the clock reaches zero, you die. This, however, is only the surface of what Sine Mora Ex has to offer.
Another element worth mentioning is the accuracy of the controls. Considering you will constantly need to dodge bullets, it is paramount to have at your disposal the ability to take your ship exactly where you want it to go, whenever you want. This is exactly what this game offers. Working in tandem with pixel-perfect hit boxes, you quickly feel comfortable, making of Sine Mora Ex an enjoyable experience right from the start, as you feel you have control over your own destiny. The game feels fair. There is nothing more frustrating for a gamer than struggling against flawed control schemes or game designs. This title is the opposite of this. It gives you the tools you need to succeed, but this does not mean you will have an smooth flight.
Keeping your focus is primordial to performing well in Sine Mora Ex, because you can only slow time for a certain period, meaning you must manage this skill to keep it from running out. As a consequence, you will sometimes have to make your way through the enemy-infested sky without the aid of time-bending powers. In these moments, your capability of staying as focused as possible will be the key to survive the battle. Therefore, this game offers a satisfying combination of mental and physical challenge as you need to mix the precise movements of your fingers with the concentration of a predator stalking its prey in the night. All of this culminates in an intense and immersive experience that generates the condition know as "flow."
This is the psychological concept established by the Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi that is known colloquially as "being in the zone." In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience , Mr. Csíkszentmihályi claims that, to achieve flow, an activity must offer clear goals, immediate feedback, sense of progress and a difficulty that provides a challenge without being overwhelming. When all these factors are put together, they create optimal experiences that will make you forget about the world around you. Through the aforementioned gameplay design, Sine Mora Ex is a title that has potential to put you in a state of flow.
Score for the game design: 9
Another worthy aspect of the game design of this title is how the developers crafted its maps. Aiming to add diversity to the challenges you must overcome, the team behind this production created levels wherein you need to change your style of play. You can find an example within the first five minutes. You start the story in the sky, free to move in any direction, but you soon find yourself inside an underwater cave system, where you must be careful not to hit the ceiling or the floor, as doing would so will inflict damage. On top of that, you must avoid the incoming fire from turrets. In order to clear the level, you must adapt. This is just one example of how developers ensured the game will constantly give you new challenges and you must learn new tricks in order to continue pushing forward, thus maintaining the sense of novelty.
Score for the level design: 9
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The visuals of Sine Mora Ex stand out as soon as you start the game. The amount of details put in the background of the combat areas are enough to make your imagination run wild and envision how these locations look from up close. Combined with the background story of the game, these places are interesting to look at and the experience offers enough diversity that you probably will not grow tired of admiring the backgrounds it displays.
Additionally, in terms of the visual experience, this game displays a clever use of color. To prevent the projectiles shot by enemies from getting camouflaged by the background art, the developers painted the bullets in neon colors, to contrast with all the other objects on screen. This helps you track the shots, aiding you to avoid them. In this regard, the art contributed to a better gameplay. Video games are audiovisual experiences and now it is time to analyse the audio of Sine Mora Ex. You can listen to the soundtrack using the video below.
Score for the graphics: 9
The composer responsible for the soundtrack of this title faced an enormous challenge. The background arts often suggest a peaceful landscape, but this notion is broken by to the frantic action happening on screen. To craft songs that fit the experience created by this dissonance, the musician had to find a balance between these two opposites. He succeed in this task by creating tracks that are fast-paced, but not as rapid as the actions you perform.
The songs, however, shift when you enter a boss battle as they rely more heavily on stronger beats, similar to techno. This results in an effect that may have been accidental. As you shoot the boss, many times the beat of the song matches the moment when you land a shot on your target, making it seem as a feedback for successfully shooting the boss. If you recall the aforementioned flow theory, you may remember that feedback is a key element to make you get "in your zone." When you are completely immersed in an intense battle, you might have the illusion that the song is responding to your actions, but as previously stated, this may be just a fortunate coincidence.
Score for the soundtrack: 9
With a solid gameplay design, combined with dazzling visuals and an uplifting soundtrack, Sine Mora Ex offers an experience that will keep in entertained from start to finish. The only major flaw in this project is the narrative. While the story is interesting, the way developers told it is subpar. Delivering your plot mostly through exposition dumps certainly is not the optimal method for storytelling.
If you are looking for a title that tells a gripping tale, you should avoid Sine Mora Ex, however, if you are seeking strong gameplay, accompanied by interesting art, then this game will offer exactly what you wish. If it had presented better its story, it could have been a masterpiece. Perhaps the developers have learned their lesson and will improve their storytelling for upcoming projects. If they choose to do so, they will have the potential to deliver a truly special experience.
Disclaimer: the score below is the average of all the scores provided in the sections of this review, which analyzed the most relevant aspects that compose the experience of Sine Mora Ex.
|+ Precise controls||– Poorly told story|
|+ Diversity in the maps|
|+ Strong audiovisual experience|