World of Darkness Preludes (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

White Wolf, purveyors of the World of Darkness (In which supernatural creatures of various kinds try to deal with their problems, including the need for secrecy) have… Very identifiable writing, at times. Style, they can do. Purple prose, they can do. The fantastic, they can often make believable, even relatable.

Subtlety, nuance, and focus, however, are often things that escape them. And these two pieces of Interactive Fiction very aptly demonstrate this. When one of your two showpieces is called (no joke) “We Eat Blood And All Our Friends Are Dead”, you know you’re in for a very White Wolf time. Whether you will enjoy that time very much depends on you. But I’m not betting on it. Let’s unpack why.

I’M SUBTLY SAYING THIS ISN’T SUBTLE, FOLKS!!!!

First up, let’s get the nice out of the way, because it’s all too brief. The mobile phone conceit of We Eat Blood is a nice one. Not one we haven’t seen before, but it works in the context, and allows for multiple threads. That’s good. Similarly, Refuge (The Mage portion of this twofer) has some cool visual stylings you’d associate with Mage (glitching, sigils, and the like.) So, visually, the stylings are pretty good. Similarly, for the most part, the tunes and sounds are also well presented.

So, there’s your style. Mostly. But the core of an Interactive Fiction is the writing, and its here… Where it starts to fall down. The general premise is that these are introductions, two people thrust into their respective supernatural worlds. But both quickly run into their own problems. Let’s begin with We Eat Blood, the stronger of the two. You are an artistic type, a drug user, general fun-haver, and, after a party, everything went horribly wrong. You can’t eat food anymore. You feel hungry as heck all the time. You have to learn how to deal with this. Oh, and your dead mother is also a vampire, a creepy one speaking in imagery, and there’s a racist bus driver, a lab monkey turned ghoulish killer, and…

Hey, did you know that vampires were originally more zombie like, and sex had next to nothing to do with things? Well, now you do!

…It has a hard time keeping focus. There’s a lot going on in We Eat Blood, and it’s about as subtle as a bag of bricks wrapped around a smaller bag of bricks. The main character is an artist surrounded by artist friends because it allows really purple prose about how sexual bloodsucking is for a vampire, oh my god it’s so good, it’s like having communion with God, only that communion is also fucking, and… I didn’t actually mind that so much, having experienced my fair share of it when I enjoyed White Wolf RPGs (I still do, to some extent.) But the story is trying to build a world that’s meant to entice you into the World of Darkness without actually referring to things, so as to keep the mystery going, so if I didn’t know WoD, old or new, I wouldn’t have realised (possibly until the end) that I’m a Nosferatu, my mother’s a Malkavian… I could go on, but there are supernatural things, and Hunters (yes, with a capital H) and Ghouls, without explanation or context, and, rather than entice, it somewhat turned me off with how it seemed a collection of incidents without any real focus.

Now, I mentioned a racist bus driver, just off hand, and this is as good a segue as any into the Mage portion of the duo, Refuge. The name is, I’m assuming, a play on words on a couple of levels, as the main character is a woman called Julia, who lives in Malmo, Sweden, working for Nordic Aid with Syrian refugees. Her husband is a maker from San-Dieg- Oh. Wait. This would be a good time to mention this half of the duet I ragequit pretty early on. Because, like We Eat Blood, it’s highly unsubtle, and reading it felt like a highly painful clout to the head.

So… Minor digression here: Done well, games that discuss Issues (capital I, the big problems facing us today) are perfectly fine. Done badly, you have something very much like Refuge. Our heroine is a loving wife for a techbro who’s helping the girls into Maker culture, and is obviously the “good” , and the introduction of the “bad”… Is where I ragequit.

Yes, I get that this so-called “Professor” hasn’t actually *read* any Clarke or Asimov, if they’re saying dumb shit like this. Yes, I get that we are constrained by our “nice person” character to only be mean passively or actively. I GET IT.

Julia, I largely didn’t feel one way or the other about until this segment. She’s “generic nice person”, so generic, in fact, that it wasn’t until I looked at the store page that I realised she was a she (The first person narrative doesn’t help there.) But while yes, this guy is an asshole who, I would lay money, will be at the right-wing rally that apparently happens later in the game (Because this is a game about Issues as well as the introduction to the world of Mage), these responses are… Bad. And this so-called professor is quite obviously Bad, and the main character is so obviously Good, and I can almost hear the capital letters forming around this narrative. I could also hear poor ol’ Dr. A starting to revolve rapidly in his grave, but that’s purely by the by. When, before the bad things even happen, you find the reader yelling “I F*(!IN’ GET ITTTT!”, like Billy Connolly at an opera, it is a sign that you are handling things with all the subtlety of a Bagger trying to do microsurgery.

It may come as no surprise to learn that most of the story revolves around the Nordic Aid, magical elements kind of take a background to the whole thing for most of the narrative, and that the black-and-white presentation continues pretty much throughout. Oh, and for those of us waiting to hear if the Mage elements are as formulaic as they can be, yes, the character Awakens at a rave.

In summary, while We Eat Blood is unfocused in places, it is definitely the superior of the two games, but… Honestly, I can’t recommend either. They’re not terribly good at introducing you to the World of Darkness, or even their relative segments of it, there’s only the tiniest hints of subtlety in the writing at places, one character is only halfway relatable (We Eat Blood’s, who is still an asshole), while the other is a cookie cutter Nice Person, and, because of their primary conceit, you may not even realise there are multiple paths through the game (Seemingly mainly influenced by early choices), because of course the game isn’t going to tell you you’re a Nosferatu, or a Gangrel, or a Hollow One, or whatever the hell. And that, funnily enough, is sort of a problem. They become generic, rather than part of their world, one by trying to introduce too many elements, the other by sidelining the magical elements with a hamhanded handling of the refugeee crises in our world and the resurgence of nazi assholes calling themselves the “alternative right wing.”

Hitting that “Compassion” button like there’s no tomorrow. I mean, it’s good advice… But there’s a page and a half of this. I’M TALKING ABOUT SUBTLETY AGAIN, IN CASE YOU HADN’T NOTICED.

The Mad Welshman remembers the names of all the supernatural beings who cross his path. There’s That Guy, and That Thing, and This Thing, and… 

Hidden Folks (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Page

It’s not often I get to review a game that’s so very honest about what it is: A hidden object/person search in the purest sense of the word, where the entire point is to click on things in the hope that yes, that’s the one you’re looking for. Or, y’know, get eyestrain trying to do it legitimately. That’s an option too.

Clicking on things, as it turns out, is the wiser option. As is discovering the scroll wheel does zoom in and out in many places. And that click and drag moves things. The game doesn’t outright tell you any of this, but you do discover it fairly quickly and organically, so I can’t really have a go at the developers for that.

Goodness me, there’s a lot going on here, isn’t there?

In fact, there’s a lot going for what, at first, appears a simple and unassuming game, and a lot of that is because the developers have done their homework on both their source inspiration (Things like the Where’s Wally?/Waldo? books) and how a game… Can somewhat get around the limitations of their source.

Like the hidden person books from which they’ve drawn inspiration, there are stories in each image. The butterfly hunt. A day at the farm. A concert in the middle of the desert, which proved… Not to be the best idea. But interaction is required to fully spot everything you want (Although you can move forward before spotting everything, if you so desire, which is very nice.) Some people and objects are hidden behind leaves, or rocks that you drag, or, in one case, you have to appease the gods of the corn for your blessing to appear (Yes, I’m being cryptic. It’s not a long game, so I’m trying my damnedest not to give you any hints that the game isn’t.) Clicking on the objects to find in the bottom bar will give you a hint. Not always a very useful hint, but then, they weren’t always very useful in the Where’s Wally books either. And, of course, sometimes something is more apparent zoomed in, than zoomed out.

All these lovely… HEY, SHEPHERD! THAT’S NO PLACE TO TAKE A SHOWER!

Adding to this is the charm of the audio. Pretty much everything is done, soundwise, via foley, aka “Let’s try and imitate the noises with our mouths”, and I shamelessly love that. There’s a sense of playfulness about it as a result. Similarly, while the black and white line-art of the visuals may be a turn-off for some, it neatly sidesteps colourblindness issues that could be such a problem in hidden person books, and, again, it has charm.

Honestly, there’s only two things I would really criticise, and both of those are effectively niggles: The flavour text boxes for each level don’t run on a replay (You can delete your progress and replay), and the varieties of left mouse interaction aren’t very well explained (But become apparent with experimentation on the second level.)

For the price, one and a half times that of one of those pocket Where’s Wally books, I’d honestly recommend Hidden Folks to fans of this sort of thing, and for folks who want a relaxing, somewhat likeable game that involves just exploring the landscape.

The Mad Welshman grinned as he moved the train down the tracks. Ostensibly, he’d find one of those people he was hired to… But the hero tied up in front was definitely a bonus!

Diluvion (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (£18.99 for Fleet Edition)
Where To Get It: Humble StoreGOGSteam

The sea is a harsh mistress. She is also, in Diluvion, a strangely empty one. Unless you count pirate ships, of which there are plenty.

Thankfully, at this range, it’s almost impossible to miss. The day is mine!

Let’s step back a bit: Diluvion is a submarine adventurey simulation type thing, in which you pick one of three ships, eventually upgrading to better ones that can go deeper, picking up crew and having adventures as you go.

There’s just one problem: It’s not very intuitive, and it doesn’t feel all that rewarding. It is, without doubt, pretty. When you find an ice block, several times bigger than your sub, or an abandoned research station surrounded by mines, you can’t help but wonder at the stories. But, even with the landmarks, those stories are mostly one liners, and most of what you’ll be seeing, even if you work out how to efficiently use the faster currents to get around, is murky dankness, filled with the bacteria and dead flesh of the ocean, the marine snow.

Not the shiniest landmark. But still an *impressive* landmark, considering…

The main thing that comes to mind with Diluvion is that yes, it’s a fairly open world, but it’s an open world without a whole lot to do. The first main quest (Upgrading the sub) is effectively an extended fetch quest, asking you to find scrap (Which is the easiest, being common, and ammunition for your main guns aside), reinforced plates (Seemingly only found in a minefield, because this is a post-apocalypse), engine parts (Seemingly, again, only found in certain areas), some blackberries (God knows how they’re grown, but I’ve also found Ferns and Daisies, so… Good job?), and a morse radio (Again, found… Somewhere. Somewhere I haven’t been yet.) Meanwhile, most of what this entails is docking with abandoned research stations, Loot Spheres (No, really, that’s what they’re called), pirate ships you’ve attacked, hunting around a hand drawn 2d representation of the thing you docked with for chests, and looting the buggers. Occasionally, there will be a crew member to hire (Including, weirdly, in the pirate ships you cripple with your scrap cannons), a trader, or an event hidden behind a door, itself gated by whether you have a crew member (Who you will potentially lose) and a crowbar (Which you will definitely lose, regardless.)

Again, these… Just blend into each other, to be honest, the majority not even being noticeable, let alone memorable. Crazed crewman to calm down was the most common one I saw, along with “There is a loot chest here, but it’s dangerous to get, maybe a crewman will help!” Meanwhile, Lady with Party Hat seems to get about a lot faster than I do, being seen in multiple places, at multiple times, sometimes even in the same building. Sometimes she’ll be running a bed and breakfast. Sometimes, she’s got absolutely nothing to say. Sometimes she’s a crafter of charms, which, due to the strange world, actually have an effect. But she is Lady with Party Hat, and unfortunately, you can tell me no different.

Good Heavens, they’re *multiplying* o.O

There is an over-arching story to this, by the way, something about a treasure, with everything unknown but its rough location (Very Deep Underwater), that apparently will make Everything Alright… But, for all that there are excellent ship designs, and the buildings are interesting, the sameness of a lot of the ones you encounter dulls the overall experience. It’s interesting, in its way, how a first quest can really mess up an experience. There are interesting things to find, and I’ve mentioned a few (Another would be the Angry Captain. Poor feller’s driven himself into an electricity pylon, and needs to make the cash to get towed), but despite seeing these things, I’m bored, and this big ol’ fetch quest is a big part of that.

It doesn’t help that, as mentioned, it’s somewhat unintuitive, and a little bugged to boot. When entering the settings, mouse sensitivity and the window size aren’t remembered between sittings (Occasionally causing swearing as Apply resizes beyond what I was comfortable with), the crew end up being pretty numbers, and applying them is odd, combat depends upon you remembering turret position, and just because something is a landmark, doesn’t always mean its a checkpoint. To be perfectly fair, dying is not a big problem, as you can reload from the last checkpoint just fine, but switching between 2d captain mode (For talking to crew, boarding ships, etc) and the main 3d mode is annoying at best, and, even with the addition of a slowdown function to switch crew between stations in combat, frustrating at worst.

Tonnesburg is, so long as you look around, a surprisingly lovely place. You will be coming back here. A fair bit.

I can see Diluvion being perfectly fine if you go into it with the right mindset, aware of the grind and just wanting to chill out, spend some time. It does, as noted, definitely have its pretty side. There was obvious attention paid to the aesthetics, there’s obviously a world out there. But it’s not really for me. If you want a chill submarine time, then I don’t think you could go far wrong with Diluvion. But if you want something a little spicier, quicker, and a little less grindy, I definitely wouldn’t blame you.

Blood Bowl 2: Legendar- Yeahno, Heard *That* Before…

Huh. This looks… Familiar.

So. You can imagine my shock when I open up my PR mails this morning, to find that Cyanide are returning to form by announcing an all new edition of Blood Bowl 2, er… After saying they didn’t want to do all that edition stuff, instead selling the teams as individual DLC (Which, for all my not being able to recommend Blood Bowl 2 for precisely the reason I’m writing this now, that elephant in the room, was a sensible decision which I am not, in fact, opposed to. So long as the pattern held true.)

In fact, here’s a wee quote from a Rock Paper Shotgun interview about how, in fact, this is a sensible decision. From the project head of the time, Sylvain Sechi.

I want to draw attention to this particular segment. Because it *sounds* reasonable. Until you remember Blood Bowl 1 had eight teams out of the box. Way back when.

And yet… Staring me in the face is Blood Bowl 2: Legendary Edition. A name that sounds awfully familiar. In fact, if it weren’t for the 2, I could almost think… That name had been used before.

Oh. It had. Funny that, it was among the first games I ever reviewed. And I was positive about it because, unlike the previous edition, it included a lot of bang for its buck. So let’s talk a bit about back and forth, and editions of games already released.

Originally, there was Blood Bowl. It had less teams than the board game had at the time, but what the hell, it was a computer adaptation, and, for all its flaws, it was entertaining. And then Dark Elves were introduced as a DLC.

This was, as far as I recall, the main change of Dark Elves edition. The Dark Elves themselves.

Then… It gets a bit weird. Because that DLC then became an entirely new edition called Dark Elves Edition. The core of the game hadn’t changed immensely, there weren’t that many reworks, and, anywhere else, this might have been thought of as a content patch. A content patch that cost £15, £25 if you didn’t own the original Blood Bowl. Then there was Legendary Edition. Legendary Edition was perhaps the easiest to argue for, rather than against, as it reworked single player, added game modes, and, of course, had a silly number of teams for that £15 (£30 if you didn’t own Dark Elves) price-tag.

Already, I think you’re starting to see a pattern. Rather than large content patches, Blood Bowl was being re-released, either discounted if you owned the previous, or full price, once every couple of years. Your progress and teams, as far as I am aware, didn’t carry over. Each edition of the game was its own, separate install. Each one, eventually, was phased out in some degree or another by the next. This is, already, slightly problematic. Complicating this further is the fact that each had a different team selection, different single players campaigns, and the same base engine… Indeed, one of my criticisms of Chaos Edition was that certain bugs (The “missing player” bug, for example) had not been fixed since the original edition, and the quality had noticeably varied between editions (Chaos Edition’s campaign, for example, was worse than Legendary’s, and the League mode introduced as a new feature was… Painful, to say the least. No, I don’t want to fight Dwarf on Dwarf six or so times before facing other teams.) Multiplayer, meanwhile, largely only changed with the teams, as it should be.

And then there was DungeonBowl. Based on a relatively faithful port of what was, originally, a two page houserule set for Blood Bowl, it was cheap in many respects. £15 for a game that had extremely poor balancing, and design choices and map design that only aided and abetted the terror that was “Team with several Big Guys and a Deathroller forces you to watch as your team gets murdered for some shithead’s amusement, because the game only ends with a goal and it’s ‘perfectly within the rules’… Which is no excuse.” Oh, let’s not forget it also had the teams as DLC. Until it didn’t, reselling the game (And updating it for free for some users. Not all, but some.)

Three tiles wide goal spaces… Up to three Big Guys on certain teams. Yeah, good luck with that!

Then, there was Blood Bowl 2. I reviewed it. I tried to be as fair as I could. But deep down, it felt like Cyanide trying to have their cake and eat it, because, for all the talk of DLC, for all the upgrading, it was, effectively, resetting the clock and selling the teams as DLC afterward. Again.

Yep, that most certainly looks like Blood Bowl 2 alright!

And now, Blood Bowl 2: Legendary Edition has been announced. Hey, all the races in the previous edition! New game modes and races for you to gawk at! New… No, wait, judging from the screenshots, I highly doubt it is a new engine. It’s a return to form. A return to form I want no part of. The original Legendary Edition somewhat restored my goodwill with a company that, in the Blood Bowl franchise, had been slowly draining it and continued to do so. With Blood Bowl 2: Legendary Edition, that process is complete. You can have your new gubbins. You can have your cake and eat it. Except I’m taking my ball and going home.

I’ll remember you, Relatively Okay Times. I’ll remember you.

Nefarious (Review)

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

Oh, Nefarious… You’re kind of villainous, but for many of the wrong reasons. I’d still say you’re okay, but you definitely have your downsides. So let’s discuss that, you and I.

Problem one with screenshotting Nefarious: There’s a fair amount of variety.
Problem two: MY EYES!

I like your idea: This time, it’s the villain. I loved some of the interesting, gimmicky moments you had, and the wry commentary on many moustache twirling habits, like mainly kidnapping princesses rather than princes, and how not all princesses are going to be dainty little flowers. I love your visual design, cartoony, over the top, and yet so clean, and I definitely love your soundtrack, with all the knowing nods, winks, and nudges to a wide variety of things, including Sentai shows. We need more of that, so props where props are due!

But, of course, we need to talk about the other things. You’ve probably heard them before, and you may be tempted to dismiss them. Please don’t, you can improve, twirl your moustache that little bit harder if you listen. Let’s start with your platforming. It’s floaty, and saggy. Part of this is the physics… Yes, I get you wanted freedom of movement in the air, but sometimes, those little boom jump things really would be better if they were fixed path. It would save a lot of players, including me, switching their hand from the mouse to make damn sure we actually get where we’re going, which slightly defeats the point of those boomjumps. Similarly, needing the player to fully go through the landing animation before being able to jump again causes some headaches, especially when you’re required to jump rather quickly and precisely. Not quite sure how to fix that, but it does lead to accidents in the workplace, sadly…

The prince is a nice guy. You did a good job kidnapping this one!

…Soundwise, you’re a little bit lacking. Those punches need a bit of a swoosh to them, add a little impact. In fact, sound in general needs a bit of perking up, and I was rather confused when the protagonist, Crow, spoke in the beginning, and then… Didn’t. I quite liked his voice, but I understand if the budget didn’t allow… It’s just a little saddening, is all.

Beyond that, there’s minor niggles, like how the airship keeps flying back to the first area after each level, or your problem with ramps (A common one with Unity games, but fixable. Take heart!) but I’d like to stress that you have charm, you have a lot of variety, some nice, eclectic references, and even if you’re not for everyone, I know you can improve, and gain a blacker, dapper-er heart.

Don’t worry about the ropes or the train, that’s just my normal way of greeting a fellow ne’er-do-well.

Not pictured: The slightly hollow footsteps.

Wishing you well!

The Mad Welshman