Mars 2030 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.59
Where To Get It: Steam

Space, it seems, is similar to War, in that it’s longish periods of nothing happening, followed by moments of pants wetting terror. Also of not knowing who your friends really are. Both of these, it seems, tie in to Mars 2030, a game which has apparently hit full release.

I will survive *this* Solar Flare. The next 9? Perhaps not.

I will survive *this* Solar Flare. The next 9? Perhaps not.

I say “apparently” , because, honestly? It doesn’t feel quite finished. For the £5.59 you pay, you get a greenscreen styled Oregon Trail type game, in which you load up, try to travel to Mars, and get assailed along the way by various factors like asteroid belts, solar flares, medical problems, and… Computer virii. Which made me blink a bit. So far, so fine, and in fact, ignoring certain factors, it’s entertaining, in a relaxing, “Something I can play while I’m wanting to relax” sense.

There’s just one problem, or rather, a series of small problems making one bigger one: I can’t ignore those things. Not just because I’m a reviewer, and not mentioning these things would be bad, but because they have an impact on the game from the very start. By which I mean picking supplies, because this is, essentially, Oregon Trail… IN SPAAAAAACE!

You’re not actually told what you get for picking, say, “10” food. It’s certainly not 10 food. It’s definitely not just ten bits of ammo for your mass driver. And that’s a problem, because part of the fun of Oregon Trail type games is taking risks, or, more accurately, gauging risks. Beyond knowing that more than 10 food would appear to get me all the way there… I don’t actually know for certain. Likewise with, er… Everything I have. Meds, Food, and Ammo are fairly obvious, but Circuits, Panels, and Wires? Well, they’re possibly something to do with shields and system repairs, but it’s not very easy to tell.

Just a week before release, this could happen to dead crew members. I *think* that's fixed... But I can't be *certain*...

Just a week before release, this could happen to dead crew members. I *think* that’s fixed… But I can’t be *certain*…

Similarly with the crew. I know, from experimentation, that my Software Engineer is the only one who can fix virii, and my Hardware Engineer fixes the shields. My gunner, I’m assuming, does gun things. Sod knows what the fourth crew member does. And sod knows, from the overlays I have, who’s still around to do these things. Because it doesn’t tell you, anywhere I can see. And once someone’s seriously laid up in the medbay, say from radiation poisoning thanks to Solar Flares, they don’t do their job any more. Which I also don’t know, because the game doesn’t tell me.

I don’t know what a virus in the Auto-Nav actually does. Or the Disposal System. And sadly, I suspect the answer to both is “Nothing.” But the fact I’m not being told these things, things the game presumably knows, is a massive black mark against it, especially since I know the developers have been informed. I would, I was one of the people who told them.

And then there’s the little things. Little things, but telling things: The “Repair” button sometimes blanks out just after I get the window back to do the thing, and also just after I’ve re-opened the ship status window because being told I had a thing to do, for some reason, closes the window. It’s pretty easy to pin down why it’s happening: Because you can’t do anything while the crew are having an event, or just before, and the game, just after giving you a thing to do, then checks to see if anything else happens, stopping you from doing the repair while it checks if something’s going to make your day more complicated. And that one little thing, combined with the other little thing, makes for frustration in an otherwise relaxing game.

A bone headed death, and my fault. Not all of them will be.

A bone headed death, and my fault. Not all of them will be.

Oh, there’s also a lackluster minigame you can play, in which a defense satellite goes up and down, and you have to time your shots to defeat never ending waves of enemies. Whoop.

So, despite it having some nice ideas, some nice visuals that are inspired by, but by no means replicating the 8-bit greenscreen of my youth (Too smooth in places, too small in others), and the same with the visuals, I really can’t recommend this, because it claims to be finished, and feels like a beta still, with bad tutorialising, and promises that seem a bit empty about “crew status” being the next feature… Which is baffling when you consider this “Big feature” is literally adding a segment to the ship status UI, and using that same code to, er… Print some variables. Which… Somehow hasn’t been done in two months. There may be crew members still “with[out] activated game content”, and I don’t, neither as player or reviewer, know. I’m informed, just as I was informed a while back, that support will continue through 2016 for the game, but as release states go, this isn’t great.

The Mad Welshman looked up at the bright eyed, bushy tailed astronaut candidate. “Space Walker? So… No software, no gunnery, no hardware? YOU’RE HIRED.” He grinned, as another useless waste of human resources was sent into space.

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Defragmented (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The dark future, it seems, involves pretty numbers going up. Also shooting people in the face, sometimes nauseating camera, and strange facial proportions. With Defragmented, the time comes to play a reviewer/critic’s game called “What am I deliberately ignoring?”

I love the expressions... It's just the odd facial proportions that turn me off. And yes, that probably isn't what you want to hear today, Mai.

I love the expressions… It’s just the odd facial proportions that turn me off. And yes, that probably isn’t what you want to hear today, Mai.

This is a pretty simple game, although not how it sounds. In this game, you note down what features you didn’t really need to use, and which ones you didn’t want to use, and why. Then you ask how it differed from what appears to be the intended experience. So let’s talk about the intended experience in Defragmented first.

Defragmented is meant to be a cyberpunk Hotline Miami, where death is quick, restarting is just as quick, and you’re scored on how quickly you killed your targets, how little you died, and how thoroughly you looted everything. There are, however, problems, and one of them is that it also expects you to use special RPG abilities, level up, switch inventory, and read a plot that doesn’t appear to change with your class.

Oh, did I mention there are classes, with different abilities, different starting weapons, and this… Doesn’t seem to really matter in the long run? Silly me! Yes, you shoot with left click, throw grenades with right click, open things and push things with E, hit things up close with, er… Q… And abilities on F. This would sound fine, if it weren’t for the required action time. Specifically, the moment an enemy sees you, they’re going to fill the screen with tracers, and odds are you’re going to die. Other reasons you might die include “The enemy spotted me from a long way away” , “My ability/gun didn’t do as much damage as I thought it would” , and “Something was blocking the use of my ability/gun that I didn’t quite see because it blends with the wall/floor.”

Pictured: Just some of the confusion that's going to arise. That's just one shooting. Go in the front door, and anything up to three folk will do this.

Pictured: Just some of the confusion that’s going to arise. That’s just one shooting. Go in the front door, and anything up to three folk will do this.

Why doesn’t it matter in the long run? Because most of the abilities are very, very situational, whereas a) Having a gun with bigger numbers, and b) Shooting them repeatedly before they see you nearly always works. Nearly being the operative phrase, because guns have accuracy, which means… Sometimes they won’t hit. Meanwhile, loot is procedurally generated, which… Isn’t terribly useful. Similarly, perspective camera isn’t terribly useful because it then moves around your mouse pointer, and aiming becomes somewhat different, which… Is not recommended when you have maybe half a second to kill the other person before they kill you. Or when there’s an open elevator pit in the near vicinity.

So this, in essence, is the core problem. The only thing that’s really reliable are enemy positions. Loot is procedurally generated, so you could go several levels without a decent gun, the offensive powers don’t seem to scale with the enemies, and melee is… Largely ignorable, due to a similar unreliability. Special abilities, similarly, can be decidedly iffy, to the point where relying on them is a bad idea. It’s a game I want to like, because it has some cool ideas, some interesting designs, and a moderately entertaining story in which the Via Ascensio, home of Cyber-Psychics, is trying to overthrow the Ascended Council, who are corrupt conservatives. Okay, it sounds a lot better in the game, as does the music, but… The game’s got a bit of a conflict going on between its need for twitch, and the more thoughtful end of things, and this is leading to difficulties. Perhaps if the enemies didn’t react immediately, that balance would be a little bit more in favour. But while it’s entertaining, and tuneful, I’m not a fan of either enemies who can shoot you from off screen (Mission 1-2, even with the camera changes in a recent patch), or the uncertainty that any of my plans beyond “Shoot it a lot” will actually work.

I definitely don't grudge the simple visuals, but the camera (And the neon) takes getting used to.

I definitely don’t grudge the simple visuals, but the camera (And the neon) takes getting used to.

But who knows, maybe you’ll do better than I, or see what I’m missing here. After all, for all that it’s hard as nails, and the dying in the same places can get frustrating, death doesn’t really have a consequence (You just restart the mission instantly), so it can definitely be completed. I just wish it didn’t feel like difficulty for the sake of difficulty.

The Mad Welshman can always count on Deal-EO. Powers, politics, safety… None of these things could be trusted. But Deal-EO gave him the other thing he trusted. Guns. Lots of guns.

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Defect (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Defect is possibly the oddest premise I’ve seen for a build and fly game in a while, but before we begin, like the game, I’d like to make clear which version of the word the title’s using. You’d think, considering the “Spaceship Destruction Simulator”, that it would be as in “Problem or flaw”, but no, it’s actually “Join an opposing side or political group.” Because that’s what your crew does. Every. Sodding. Time.

Every. Single. Bloody. Time.

Every. Single. Bloody. Time.

It’s amusing the first five times it happens. Then you get horrified. What kind of civilisation encourages such disloyalty? Then you just get plain angry. How dare they steal your… Okay, for the first few missions it’s not going to be a sweet ride. But part of the difficulty curve is that you’ll be going up against that ship you built last mission in among the others. It’s an interesting idea, but I’m kind of hoping it’s got a little more nuance than the same set of events each time. “Oh hey, this is now the most powerful ship in the sector! G’Bye Cap’n, we’ll put it to good use!” “Oh… Well, surely that won’t happen next time, huh?”

I’m thinking of defecting myself, engineer lady. It comes from working for a navy that’s obviously a big shower of assholes, the way everyone keeps mutineering. Speaking of, why do they keep letting Crewman Bowie back into the Navy? Why do I keep letting him back onto my ship?!?

Well, okay, we all know the reasons, but still… Everyone in this universe is dumb. But is the game?

Not really, no. The main variation is in what you can build, which increases after each mission. Good example, after I’m done with the tutorial missions, I finally get a shield. Which, unfortunately, I can’t use without some other facet of my ship suffering right now… Like decent guns. Or steering. The UI, and the music, are nice and minimalist, and I do like the caricature designs of the characters who, variously, advise and annoy you. The one problem I have right now, though, is a bit of a weird one…

Take a look at that zoom meter on the right. That will give you *some* idea...

Take a look at that zoom meter on the right. That will give you *some* idea…

…The maps are too big. On the one hand, this is to allow the frankly huge designs you get later in the game, and fight pretty early on. But for at least the early missions? You’re quite small. And that means you don’t really get to see your ship in action, except as a tiny thing on screen, shooting at other, possibly as tiny things on screen. An automatic zoom helps with this, but it unfortunately doesn’t help that much in the early game. Also not helping is that you are very limited by your Core, and you have to work with that, which becomes… Very fiddly. Seven or eight missions in, and you’re going to wish you had something better. Which leads to the other problem… It’s not very balanced right now, and it seems like you’re pretty much expected to grind missions you’re good at so you can have the equipment to deal with those you don’t. Good example, the game is reminding me why I hate escort missions.

“Oh yeah, defend this freighter against some pirates, and… OH NO, TORPEDO BOMBERS.” Fuck. You. My choices at the time this mission comes up (And three others of its ilk) are something nippy and tough, but with next to no firepower; something able to turn on a dime, but with only forward firing weapons (Because turrets take up more crew than I’m comfortable with); or something that shoots well, shoots in many directions, but has armour thin as tissue paper. This is about where I got frustrated, because everything currently needing work starts giving you a kicking, like a schoolyard bully and his mates. The camera wants to encompass as many enemies as possible, so you have to fight the auto camera to avoid the torpedoes, which will kill you in one, maybe two shots. The game’s preference for forward firing weapons means you have to fight the steering of your design, and the fact that nearly everything is faster than you, because the engines aren’t quite balanced, means that you’ll die… Again… And again… And again, because you can’t quite build something useful.

Yeah, um... Good luck with that!

Yeah, um… Good luck with that!

Then you go back to grind, and realise most of the rewards up till now have been mission rewards. So your rate of new equipment slows to a crawl.

In summary, while Defect is definitely interesting, it’s looking right now like it might be a good idea to wait and see. The mission requirements definitely outpace the equipment right now, the camera needs a bit more work, and it gets frustrating once you’re out of the tutorial. It undeniably has its cool moments, it’s UI is pretty nice (Although Symmetry mode, also, needs some work), and I kinda like what’s going on with the visuals. Thankfully, it’s a pretty early version (0.12.22076), so there’s plenty of time for the devs to balance things, and fix hiccups.

The Mad Welshman sighed as he tumbled through space, waiting for the pickup. You’d think, after the 253rd time, that he’d remember to lock the bridge door.

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The Slaughter: Act One (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Site, Humble Store

The Slaughter is a potentially interesting adventure game, with some good writing, and puzzles that… Could have been put together better. It’s the first part in a trilogy involving Sydney Emerson, a private investigator who is investigating the death of his saviour from a savage beating. The Ripper may be involved. Dreams definitely are. But unless the puzzles are cleared up, I’m not terribly confident about its chances. Still, let’s talk nice things first.

Pictured: Some Victorian hijinks. Oh, how they laughed as the poor doctor's head swelled!

Pictured: Some Victorian hijinks. Oh, how they laughed as the poor doctor’s head swelled!

There is some pretty good dialogue in the game, such as wry commentary on the White Knight stereotype near the beginning, and some clever dream symbology. The music is at least fitting in mood, and I was near to tears as Sydney thanks his saviour post mortem (A prostitute whose murder kicks off the plot.) There are interesting characters.

But the puzzles… The puzzles need work. No, I’m not going to mince words here, some of the puzzles are poorly signposted, and plain don’t fit. Chapter 2, for example, requires you to ask for a Screwdriver (The cocktail), to get a Screwdriver (The object), to unscrew a window. The Screwdriver… The cocktail, that is… Didn’t exist in Victorian times. In fact, it didn’t exist for at least another half century.

One of the few documents of the game, but nonetheless, an important one.

One of the few documents of the game, but nonetheless, an important one.

The game does end on an interesting note, but unfortunately, the example used here is just one of a variety that require the facility to read the developer’s mind, and I was forced to search for a walkthrough for quite a few portions of the third and final act. Especially as some triggers are a little finicky, requiring you to ask about obvious possessions, for example, before being able to ask for them as a prize in a minigame that’s… Equally finicky, albeit for a different reason (Due to the nature of the game in question, you often find yourself mousing over the Quit button more than you may, perhaps, wish.)

This is a dream situation. Which, unsurprisingly, means it's a dream.

This is a dream situation. Which, unsurprisingly, means it’s a dream.

There is promise in The Slaughter, Act One… But to get there requires some leaps of logic, and I’m hoping that the second act, when it comes out, is less finicky and haphazard in the puzzle design. Sadly, I’m not a big fan, but if you’re willing to try it out for yourself, it may perhaps be a little more transparent to you.

The Mad Welshman slammed back a Black Russian as he adjusted his camisole. Dark times were afoot, and he needed to work out how to get home safely.

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Master of Orion (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £29.99
Where To Get It: Steam (NB – Comes with the original 3 Master of Orion games)

This isn’t really going to be an article reviewing how much game there is. It’s pretty obvious, at this point, that while the game is playable, and victories can be achieved, it’s incomplete, and there is more to come, including balancing of units and the like. This is about another important question: Do NGD and Wargaming “get” Space Opera?

The planetary environments, while the same canned anims that you'd see in the original MoO, are gorgeous.

The planetary environments, while the same canned anims that you’d see in the original MoO, are gorgeous.

Judging by the tears leaking down my face from the opening theme, with its violins, choirs, harps, and wind instruments? It’s a good starting sign. And the game is already showing heaps of promise. Let’s start with the races. So far, every race is presented fairly neutrally. Nobody is unequivocally a “good” or “bad” race, from the proud Alkari, to… Okay, maybe the Mrrshan are a little dickish, what with the “They’ll sometimes even attack their allies for the fun of it.” For those who don’t know Master of Orion’s universe (First seen in 1996 with the titular game by Microprose), there are 10 races, 6 of which are available at this point in the Early Access: The psychic, four armed scientists, the Psilons; The preening birdfolk with elite piloting skills, the Alkari; The tough Space Bears of Nature, the Bulrathi; The ruthless matriarchal catfolk with a penchant for ground combat, the Mrrshan; the reptilian, quickly colonising Sakkra Brood… Oh, and Humans, who have, in Space Opera tradition, formed a Grand Republic. Somehow.

Well, that’s why they call it Space Opera, really… Grandiose in view, and not a little implausible at times. Nonetheless, aurally, it’s an almost constant, and pleasant assault on the senses, from the sweeping orchestral score that quickens the blood and sets the mood well, from combat to colonisation, to the smooth tones of the voice actors and actresses that make the star studded cast. Most are immediately recognisable, such as Michael Dorn (Narrator), John De Lancie (President of the Republic), and Kat Cressida (Mrrshan Empress), while others take a little more work to identify, but no less enjoyment, such as Nika Futterman (Mrrshan Advisor, and, once they’re in the game, Darlok Advisor), John Kassir (The Alkari Advisor, whose squawks, shrieks, and excitement slay me with laughter.) Visually, similarly, it’s all gloss, from the tight UI design (Minimal, but stylistically fitting) to the ships (Each having their own character, and some customisation options, such as 2 model styles per class, and several preset colour schemes.)

The last thing a Space Pirate is going to see in the Early Game: The Missile Lock Indicator.

The last thing a Space Pirate is going to see in the Early Game: The Missile Lock Indicator.

It’s pretty clear it’s had a lot of cash spent on it. So how does it play? Well, it would be a disservice to say it plays exactly like the original Master of Orion, because there are definitely refinements, but many of these are subtle at the present time, and I don’t think we’ll see a whole lot of rocking the boat in terms of gameplay. It is, nonetheless, its own entity, with some changes to areas such as research (No more does every tech lock you out of something, for example), tactical combat (Which is now real time, although still, as far as I can tell, on a level plane. Also, you can get a rough estimate of how your chances are against a fleet or space creature), and pollution (Which, instead of being a Fact of Life, can now be reduced via the build menu.) There is also, because the game is still in development, a bunch of missing features (Such as Tech victories, Economic victories, four races, custom races, and miscellaneous bits and bobs like a full Volcanic Planet description) and the odd typo, but right now? The game is definitely playable, and, if you liked, say, Master of Orion 2, it’s an enjoyable play.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some things that don’t feel a little off to me. It’s important right now, for example, to make sure you hit the “Randomise seed” button for your galactic maps, unless you feel like playing the same map over and over again, some voice clips fail to play at times, and, to be brutally honest, I’m not overly fond of the Mrrshan, although their portrayal is consistent, and makes sense. No, I’m not particularly offended by Mrrshan Sideboob. I’m more annoyed that everyone else seems to be characterised more neutrally, including the Alkari, who are, as far as I recall, bigger assholes as a race. Psilons? Yeah, go out and study things! Bulrathi? Let’s Protect Nature (Any Way We Can)! Sakkra? We’re lookin’ out for our kids! Mrrshan? Yeaaahhhh, more shit to fight, fuck yes! If we don’t find anyone else, we’ll smack our allies around for the fun of it, yeaaaaahhh!

The Mrrshan have pretty ships, but are the least pretty faction, tonally.

The Mrrshan have pretty ships, but are the least pretty faction, tonally.

However, aside from these few hiccups (One of which may well just be me), it’s early days yet, and to see polish and promise this early on makes me feel fairly confident that, even if Master of Orion doesn’t break new ground, it’s already got character, it’s got atmosphere, and if it continues to improve and refine, it’s going to do well.

The Mad Welshman grinned as he stared at the holovisor. GNN had voted him “Most Dashing Tyrant” for the second year running, and… The proximity alarms blared as he scrambled to the console. “Oh no… ALKARI!”

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