Duskers (Release Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: 
£14.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Site

Erik Johnson, one of the Misfits Attic team on Duskers, stated When I created Duskers it was really around a feeling: of being alone in the dark, of isolation, of being surrounded by old gritty tech that could only give you a partial picture about what’s going on around you, like the motion sensor that goes off, but doesn’t tell you exactly what’s out there. I like the idea of needing to rely on that tech, and the claustrophobia and isolation that would cause.”

Every single one of these ships is devoid of its original crew. Every one is deadly.

Every single one of these ships is devoid of its original crew. Every one is deadly.

He’s not wrong, and Duskers is an interesting game that somewhat defies easy genre labelling. But hot-damn, am I grateful the difficulty is so customisable, because with all the options on, it’s tense, and death, or rather, being left without your drones, is quite easy.

Storywise, it’s simple: You are possibly the last human being left alive, and you want to both survive… And know why, how it happened. All you have is a small drone salvage ship, with a (mostly) full complement of drones, and your wits. Good luck with that!

What this means, however, is that you are controlling a variety of drones, none of which see overly clearly, through an easy to learn text interface and HUD. You can directly control the movement of a single drone with the arrow keys, but for everything else, it’s commands like “Navigate 2 r4” (Move drone 2 to room 4) or “Motion 1” (Use drone 1’s motion tracker, because another drone I brought along also has one), with some easter egg messages available using the “Run” command (For example: Run twirlygig)

Most of the time, this isn’t a problem, and the game is like a puzzle. But the older the ship, the larger the threats that loom, and the less time you have to react to them. And often, it presents you with tough and interesting decisions. For example, spacing threats is, especially with radiation turned off, an option… Once you’ve discovered them. And there are three and a half ways to discover a threat: Motion trackers, which don’t always work; Sensors, which require you to place them; Stealth, which doesn’t always work; And, of course, them discovering you. Which is bad. Very bad.

The red blinky is bad. But a bad I *know* about. And thus a bad I could *possibly* deal with.

Map view, where we see some sensors, the sensors picking up someone bad, and the remains of one of my drones. SOD.

At the beginning of the game, you will have, at most, two and a half of these options. And maintaining all of them once you get them is asking for a “Reset”, which, on the one hand, keeps your objective progress and logs collected. On the other, it puts you back in the original ship, with starter drones, and the threats discovered remain as well.

If a ship is cleared of enemies, it can be commandeered, sometimes allowing for greater Scrap storage (The currency of the game, and the only means of keeping your upgrades active for more than a few missions at a time), more ship upgrade slots (Which give you more responses to situations), a few ship specific upgrades (Such as the Military Ship’s cannon, which will kill everything in a room… At the cost of permanently opening it to space), and better fuel storage (Allowing you to travel further without jumping to another system.) There’s also a lot of options, and all of them have a help command that explains their function. It makes for a lot of choices when you get a good run going, and it’s interesting to see the developers do a lot with a little.

However, that doesn’t mean the game is perfect. I’ve often said no game is, and there are things that could possibly be worked on. The reset option takes a lot of the sting out of failing a boarding, losing nearly everything, and that’s a good thing… But it, along with the procedural nature of the universe, means the game slows down a fair bit when you get to the third or fourth sets of objectives in the various disaster questlines, due to needing specific tools or places. Right now, for example, I have to find a specific class of ship, with at least the “pry” or “teleport” tools, preferably a turret and some mines, and destroy all threats within it without turning the ship’s power on. Even if the ship is found, that’s a fair bit of setup, and you can only visit a ship once.

...I can't see where I'm going. Crap.

…I can’t see where I’m going. Crap.

Similarly, there is no colour blind support for this game, as, while most of the drone colour schemes are thought out nicely, some make the drones unplayable, perhaps even to folks who see colour better than I do. Dark brown on black, for example, is a terrible idea, and dark red on black, similarly, isn’t great. Thankfully, those are relatively rare, but it would be nice if they’d vanish entirely in a later patch, for the sake of everyone’s eyeballs.

But, while you may be thinking that graphically, this doesn’t look like a whole lot for £14.99, there’s a lot under the hood, and I find myself coming back to it, wanting to know… What red button did they push? Was it machinery out of control? A super AI? A galactic war? Maybe they found something that somehow killed us all on its lonesome? What’s the real secret?

So if you like procedurally generated games, mysteries, puzzles, and a little bit of existential horror, perhaps give this one a go. It seems barebones at first, but there’s definitely some interesting things being done with this game, such as allowing you to continue the story even if you “died.” And, when you think the mystery’s been solved with this one, try a clean save, see if it’s any different. I ruled out Grey Goo, for example, let me know if you did too!

Tim took out its electronic frustrations before a security bot did the same.

Tim took out its electronic frustrations before a security bot did the same.

The Mad Welshman sighed as Abby’s microphone picked up the telltale synthetic drone… Checking his shipscan, he grinned. The room was worthless, and bordered on an airlock. “NOT THE BEES”, he cried with glee as he violently flipped the “LOCK OVERRIDE” switch.

Aurora (The Roguelike: Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Aurora, a Roguelike by russian developers Sun Dog, is, on the one hand, a potentially interesting experience, and shows some promise in its ideas. On the other, it’s let down by writing that veers wildly between three poles: Serious science fiction… Memery… And seemingly random interjections of slurs and extraneous sexual details that, combined with the memes, bring the tone of the whole thing down. Not in a good way, but in a way that changes it from “Needs slightly better translations” to “Needs a serious rewrite.”

No, really... I DON'T NEED TO KNOW THIS.

No, really… I DON’T NEED TO KNOW THIS.

So, before we get onto the good and the kind of eh, let’s get the shitty out of the way. I do not need to know the cup size of a journalist at a press conference about the fate of humanity. I definitely don’t need to know her tits are jiggling. Yes, I get that the two Bork in that one sidequest are not the smartest, but you can seriously bring that across without random slurs coming into it. Yes, Gordon Freeman is our science officer, and he’s an incompetent coward, ho ho ho ho ho. And, in a shock turn of events, the Aurora captain gets an email of “Selected Blog Posts” about his press conference that include talking about MLP and whether the captain has shagged an alien. Yes, ladies and gents, My Little Pony apparently still exists in 2203.

And this is a damn shame, because there are signs of potential here: I ran into an ethical conflict, where I could maybe have found a world for an overstretched humanity to colonise, if I had kidnapped a possibly sentient being. I improved the lot of Earth, at least temporarily, by finding a substance that substantially improved medical science. I started to feel involved in at least one big mystery, and a number of smaller ones. Solving the world’s energy crisis introduces a labour crisis, and interesting things happen.

Planetary exploration is, in many cases, a bit shallow at this current stage. Kill things, get rockses.

Planetary exploration is, in many cases, a bit shallow at this current stage. Kill things, get rockses.

But I keep getting taken out of that. The inconsistency, sadly, stretches to the visuals and music. I can see what’s being aimed for here (A kind of early 90s DOS style pixellated visuals), but the quality widely varies, sometimes within the same image. As soon as I see the words “Meteor shower”, I decide not to land, not because those are dangerous, but because they slow planet exploration to a crawl. Similarly, if I’m understanding things right, proper exploration is grindy as hell, requiring you to physically explore the world to map it. I honestly don’t know if colonisation is implemented yet, but if it is, it’s oddly specific, as surely, if the atmosphere is breathable, life is there, minerals are there, and the gravity is right, the world can be colonised, right? And yet, despite finding possible candidates, nothing has happened. It really is such a mixed bag.

The fact that this is considered about halfway done (0.5.1) is, to be honest, somewhat of a concern, because the game needs to tighten up a fair bit. There are hints of goodness here, but at the present stage, I’m not terribly impressed. The game has promise, but I am genuinely uncertain whether the Sun Dogs team can really consider this the halfway point of the game.

Our ongoing mission, to see how it goes, find new patches and program updates, and to boldly go... Well, to stars! And things!

Our ongoing mission, to see how it goes, find new patches and program updates, and to boldly go… Well, to stars! And things!

It isn’t often you find The Mad Welshman conflicted. Except between death rays and train tracks. Decisions, decisions…

Enter The Gungeon (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Enter the Gungeon is, at its core, entertaining. But it is definitely not the kind of entertaining that suits everybody. I’ll try to unpack that as we go along, but essentially, it’s a procedurally generated twin stick shooter set in… The Gungeon, home of more ammunition and projectile weapon puns than you can shake a boomstick at, along with a gun that can kill… The past. CUE OMINOUS MUSIC!

See? It's got a parchment drawing and everything, it's obviously both important and super cursed!

See? It’s got a parchment drawing and everything, it’s obviously both important and super cursed!

The game itself is pretty responsive, and, much like other procedural twin-sticks like Binding of Isaac or Nuclear Throne, I almost never feel like dying is anything but a failure on my part, as there’s quite a few tools to deal with the swarm of bullets that will head your way, including that most important one, the dodge roll with generous invincibility frames, and the limited “Blanks”, which destroy all visible bullets, and slightly knock back enemies. There’s a variety of guns, a variety of enemies, and a number of secrets and unlocks that were enough to stump the collective player base for all of a week or two (Which doesn’t sound like much, until you look at the guides, and realise how much was there to be discovered. So, er, go you, fellow players of Enter the Gungeon!)

However, the game likes keeping its secrets perhaps a little too much. I thankfully know what most of the items do as I get them, although rarely before I’ve used them for the first time, but the guns? I have no idea if a Wind-Up Gun (Which gets weaker the further into the clip it goes, as its spring firing mechanism winds down, presumably) is better or worse than the Barrel of Fish (Shoots fish, and an associated small puddle. Oh, and it sometimes stuns enemies), or the trusty RPG (Which… Well, blows things up but good, and is slow to fire and load.)

The Gatling Gull: Buff and violent. It killed a pig once, although it was aiming for a Gungeoneer.

The Gatling Gull: Buff and violent. It killed a pig once, although it was aiming for a Gungeoneer.

I get it, really I do. It’s like potions and weapons in a “proper” Roguelike (Quote marks fully intended), where you don’t know what a thing will do until you try it or somehow identify it, but I’m specifically mentioning the guns because I know that’s going to be a turn off for some, and I’d rather they knew now than getting all ranty later. Similarly, the difficulty in levels can also be somewhat erratic, to the point where I dread the mention of certain bosses, such as the Beholster (Has quite a few potential attacks), or the Gatling Gull in a completely open arena (Where I know most of the fight is going to be dodge rolling rather than shooting), while simply shrugging at others, such as The Bullet King, whose patterns are pretty easy to pin down. Enemies, also, are somewhat inconsistent, as a room full of bullet bats is a case of “Er, is this threatening?”, while Lead Maidens and the setup of a certain possible level 1 encounter (Screenshotted below) makes me break out in a cold sweat.

Basically, I’m saying it likes its mystery a bit much, and I think the difficulty “curve” is a bit… Inconsistent.

By no means the most difficult encounter in the game. Not even close.

By no means the most difficult encounter in the game. Not even close.

Otherwise, the music isn’t bad, the sound effects are varied and, in some cases, suitably meaty, the visuals are consistent and well put together, so the main thing I’d really have to say about Enter the Gungeon is that your mileage will vary a little, but will vary a lot more if you don’t like mystery about those things wot you’re firing other things from. I’m not really going to comment on the story, firstly because I have yet to complete a loop of the Gungeon, and secondly because… Well, you’re not really encountering all too much of it except towards the end. Overall, Enter the Gungeon is definitely a case of “Your Mileage May Vary.”

The Mad Welshman rolled behind a table. Someone was trying to kill him, and they were bullet shaped… THINK, DAMMIT, THINK… Do I know this casing?