BattleChasers: Nightwar (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ahhh, Battlechasers. An interesting comic about a young girl called Gully, who inherited her late father’s magical gauntlets, and now… An interesting RPG mixing turn based combat with real-time exploration. So, with the foreknowledge that I mostly like this game, let’s get the “Your mileage may vary” bit out of the way, shall we?

Er… No, Monika. Although you’re one of the few I *don’t* miss in this game.

Nightwar is, as I stated, based on a comic called Battlechasers from Image back in the late 90s. It was written by Joe Madureira and Muneir Sharrief, with a variety of artists, although the pencils were all done by Joe Madureira (Who, not coincidentally, was the art lead on Nightwar.) Even though it ran for only 9 issues, it’s had a cult following, and the art style is very distinctive. Also distinctive are the sometimes implausible costumes that mainly seem to affect the women (His work can be male gazey. Like… Juuuuust a tadge.) This is a good segue into the visuals.

So yeah, while I’m not the biggest fan of the more implausible lady costumes (Which isn’t a huge pool to choose from, and mostly consists of Red Monika, the heavily Red Sonja inspired and largely unsupported rogue of the group… And yes, I was talking about the boob cup), I cannot argue that I like most of the character and monster designs of the game. Gully is perhaps the best example of a teen punchwitch I know of, Calibretto is an interesting and cool design, and there’s a lot of dynamic, colourful, and well crafted art on display here, and not just in the characters and creatures. The overworld map gives the impression of an actual map, with little crosshatches, designs, and other nifty little elements, and the world is both colourful and clear. The battle animations are meaty as heck, and quite a few hours in, I’ve yet to tire of even some of the more basic ones. Soundwise, the game’s a little less impressive, but only a touch, and so, aesthetically, it’s been quite the pleasing experience.

Example of the charm: I genuinely appreciate a Lich who has the brass to try something like this.

Writing wise, well, it’s high fantasy where Mana, the source of magic, is a mineable resource, and technologies both ancient and new have arisen as a result. Our heroes go to a forgotten island, get shot down by unexpected pirates, and get embroiled in deeds that threaten the wooooorld. So, on the surface, the writing isn’t exactly going to win awards. But, with the exception of Knolan, who is presented in barks as quite the unlikable asshole of a wizard (and not much better outside), again, it seems to work. Quest steps are mostly well explained and reasonable, there’s at least a little bit of character in everyone (From the snobbish, jaded alchemist to the Lycelot who believes his tribes have lost their way in following… [DRAMATIC THUNDER] The Dark Lady) , and everything has a sense of place, fantastic as it is. Mana mines that have been abandoned due to some unforeseen taint (Not to mention the fact that they’d almost run dry)? Reasonable. A shanty-town with industrial elements as a bandit stronghold? Reasonable. Heck, not even all the bandits are willing to fight. It’s one of those things where I’d feel silly trying to explain its charm to someone who’s never seen high fantasy of any sort, but it is, nonetheless, pretty well put together.

So… We’ve established that, narratively, there’s charm… What about the damn game, Jamie, what about the gaaaame? Hold your horses, because that, also, is reasonable and with a charm of its own. First up, this is fairly friendly for an RPG. You don’t die, you get knocked out if you screw up, lose some money, and end up back in town. And the difficulty curve is reasonable enough that the only times that’s ever happened are either when I’ve unwittingly disturbed something way above my pay grade (For example, an Elder Elemental Deity. Ohhhh, they’ll get theirs, the rocky, fiery asshole…) or during trap-heavy dungeons (Traps, being in the real-time exploration, are somewhat harder to deal with than, say, a magic/coal powered mechanical device built for ramming people with spiky, speedy violence.) Heck, I haven’t even been grinding that much, and I’ve been Doing Okay. Part of this is that stats are mainly linked to your level, with some boosts from equipment, some from perks that let you mix and match two paths of each character, and some from the Bestiary, which improves your stats the more goals you fulfil… Most of which you’ll be doing organically through play. Kill 50 beasts? Yeah, no prob, thanks for the 1% increase in health! Similarly, each character has abilities that either affect the world (See stealthed enemies, smash secret walls), an impending fight (Inflict bleeding if you hit with Calibretto’s cannon, for example), or both (that smashing secret walls? Also stuns enemies at the start of a fight if you get it off.)

This was 0.1 seconds before EVERYTHING DIED (Also two XP bonuses, possibly three)

What I guess I’m getting at is that Battlechasers: Nightwar, for all its niggles, is a solid, charming, and, for an RPG, a friendly experience overall. I quite like it, and I definitely see myself aiming for finishing New Game+ .

The Mad Welshman would like to know where one can get these self-propelling tanks. Answers at the tradesman’s entrance, please.

Inmates (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £7.19
Where (Not) To Get It: Steam

I am, at this point in time, really starting to lose my patience with first person horror games, and Inmates, a “Psychological Horror” game (The reason for the quote marks will become rapidly clear) is definitely not helping. Let’s unpack that.

Yes, you’re going to be climbing all the way to near the top before falling at walking speed, before the game begins proper. Because it’s *symbolic*

Before we do, though, a brief note about the accessibility of the game and controls. The controls are very simple. There is one movement speed and no running. The graphics options are limited to Low, Medium, High, with no option for a windowed mode, no gamma options once you start the game (You have to return to the main menu to change options), and, for reasons I’ll be going into, you’ll want to turn the volume quite, quite low… Outside of the game, because the game has no volume options. So, while keeping the controls simple is good, it generally doesn’t win brownie points for other, pretty basic reasons.

Okay. Now let’s actually talk about Inmates… Starting with how checklisty it feels, right from the get-go. Amnesiac Protagonist? Check. Light source crap? Check. Jumpscares? Cheeeeck? Honestly, a lot of what I’ve seen wasn’t so much jumpscares as “Sudden burst of imagery” , which doesn’t always count. Oh noooo, my wife’s glitchy eyeeeess-somewhat unnerving maybe? Not really? Set in a dingy, run down place? Yup. It’s even a prison, with symbology aplenty of what comforts and/or confines the cellmates (from science to superstition.)

…Do I need to declare why this, itself, is a checklist point?

I could go on, but this is the real problem here, right from the opener… It feels like the developer has gone down a checklist, even down to references to other horror properties (Oh hey, the few prisoners you see have rapidly wobbling heads, like Silent Hill! Also glowing eyes, like… Well, a lot of things, honestly, although The Fog comes to mind the most.) What the developer doesn’t appear to have done much of is given a reason to care. It’s thrown at us that he has a wife, and some other woman called Nataly and a man called Ben are involved (Ben is a doctor, by the way.) There’s a child called Anton, whose diary entries periodically give clues. There are… Puzzles.

I decided to take a break after the game had firstly taken control away from me after opening a door to get me captured by a spoooooopy security guard called Roy (I know this because the protag yells out “OH NO, IT’S ROY!” like… I’m meant to know and/or care that he was established as dangerous less than 2 minutes ago, without, as you might have guessed, any real context) , and then given me a minute, maybe two, of high pitched, tinnitus like noise. Oh, and a puzzle involving children’s bedrooms after an interminable stair climb at a single walking speed. And then…

I had some more words here, on horror, and how psychological horror needs at least some grounding, but I just discovered the infodump near the end, and I’m going to spoil the hell out of it, because hell no. A literal prison of the mind, for personalities. This is terrible mental health representation, because not only is the game presenting, as its core narrative conceit, Dissociative Identity Disorder, it’s also conflating it with, essentially, “Hollywood Schizophrenia.” Which, as you might have guessed by the quote marks, doesn’t represent the experience either.

I’m actually somewhat grateful the screenshots don’t get across how *everyone’s bloody head is wobbling at 120 miles an hour*…

I can’t recommend this game on any level. The writing is heavy handed, poorly paced, and using a core narrative conceit that not only doesn’t work as horror, it doesn’t work as representative of the thing it’s trying to represent. It’s not very accessible, relying on jitters, bloom, darkness and noise for its “scares” , it is, as you might have gathered, poorly designed, and the repeated usage of the wobbling head motif from Silent Hill is constantly reminding me of a game where “Psychological Horror” was more apt (and a better designed game to boot.)

The Mad Welshman rarely becomes truly disgusted. This is one of those times.

Holy Potatoes! What The Hell?! (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

For those who haven’t seen the Holy Potatoes series, they’re essentially games that futz with some established formulae, set it in a world where potato based people live, sprinkle in a boatload of referential humour, and set it into the wild. With Holy Potatoes! What The Hell?! (Yes, the punctuation is mandatory), Daylight Studios have taken on the cooking game genre… And, in the process, given it a very fitting title.

I somehow don’t think this is going on his account.

I mean, what else can you call a game where you, a trio of potato people (and additional, potato based cast) are chefs in Hell serving the souls of the damned in various, delicious, potato-based flavours to deities as you travel through the seven circles of Hell?

Gameplay wise, the basics are very simple: Feed the sinners into various pots to create ingredients. This takes time, you won’t be able to put more sinners in until your current batch is done, and each ingredient maker makes better quality ingredients if they fulfill certain arrangements. Early on, for example, very high sin makes for Good baked potato people. A little later on? Oh no, we’re not doing that “More is more” stuff, sins within a certain range are what makes the ingredients truly… Mwah. Anyway, those ingredients go into a pool, and, after a certain amount of prep time, your customers (an increasing cast of hungry deities) start demanding dishes. Each dish takes time to cook, the customers have requirements, and, for the early levels at least, you only have one stove. So the addition of potato drinks, in which you send dishes to be made into a delicious Baaleys, comes in. Baaleys in moderation delays those deities from getting angry and docking you Favour, serving within a reasonable time, to requirements, gets you Favour, and, while there’s a fair bit more mechanical gubbins than that, constantly expanding as you go through the circles of Hell to your “Reward” , those are the basics.

As it turns out, the Potato Holy Book is *really strict*

And yes, at no point have we lost sight of the fact that we are potato people, serving other potato people to potato deities, including Potato Loki (Sinstagram star), and Potato Thanatos (The actual Greek God of Death, who, in this game, guilts over his duties because, even though he doesn’t punish people directly, he still has to watch. Poor spud.) So… How does it feel to play?

Mostly pleasant, actually. For all its grisly premise, its sometimes disturbing sins (Mostly wacky, but sometimes icky, like “I stalked a politician, because I have no morals.” Ew. Ew ew ew.), the game is quite accessible, for several reasons. There are skip buttons for talkiness. Everything is clearly colour coded, and, where colour alone might suffice, shape coded or numbered clearly to boot. Tooltips are friendly and, again, clear. And, and I cannot stress this enough… There is a pause button. Oh, thank Potato God for that!

See, while I can certainly appreciate the high pace and stress of unpaused food making in, say, Cook, Serve, Delicious, a pause button is an option I like, because it gives me the option to remove a layer of play that I don’t want on top of what the game already has (Time and resource management, because, even without the pause button, I’ve had a few hairy moments where I’ve been running low on different flavours of sinners, and, in one area on the Second Circle, I was also running out of sinners. They were being cooked faster than they were coming in… And it still came close to not enough!) It also gives the game room to add more layers, which it’s been consistently doing throughout. The 3rd Circle, for example, introduces condiments and the aforementioned Baaleys.

Occasionally, you will be given the option to spare a Sinner, on the offchance they’ll make life easier.

The writing for the game isn’t going to wow. As mentioned, it’s got a setting, it’s setting itself up for humour (and a DRAMATIC TWIST), but mostly, what it’s setting itself up for is Potato and Hell puns. Enough puns, as with the other two Holy Potatoes! games, to make even the most devoted dad joke maker throw up their hands and promise to live a better life.

Overall, I somewhat enjoy the game. It’s accessible while also providing a challenge, it has, for all that it’s an excuse for potato jokes, an interesting premise which occasionally does raise interesting questions… And, y’know, potato jokes and oddball humour. At less than £6, it’s very reasonably priced, and I would honestly say it’s worth a go if you like cooking management type dealybobbers.

The Mad Welshman prefers to eat at Tony’s Hot Manna, down the street (metaphorically speaking.) Damn, those pizzas are heavenly!

Heat Signature (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 (£21.99 for Supporter’s Edition with extra stuff, £10.99 if you already have the game and want to upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

The wheels of the revolution are always oiled with the blood of the people. That may sound like a needlessly depressing start to a review of Suspicious Developments’ Heat Signature, a game about invading spaceships, but, in a very real sense, that’s what it is. Consider…

…Dying in the cold depths of space… It ain’t so bad, compared to failing the Liberation…

For all that characters have a brief, procgenned story, a reason for them to join the revolution, it’s their stuff that matters. Yep, okay, once you’ve done enough missions and earned enough intel on the ongoing interstellar war we’re trying to stop by, er… Liberating everyone with guerilla warfare… We’ll let you know how to save your sister, or steal that thing to pay off your debt, or murder the guy that sentenced your parents to death. Cool. No, you can’t will your things to others, even though we basically tell you, every one of you, that it’s basically a suicide mission, and good luck!

Essentially, while you can change characters at any time (even leaving them to die in the cold depths of space, if you so choose, as I admit I’ve occasionally done when particularly annoyed by a mission failure), what you cannot trade is their stuff. And, believe me, you’ll need some of that stuff, as certain enemy types are unkillable without either some very silly plans (Like shooting an airlock to blow them out of it, or just plain blowing up the room) or some very specific stuff in limited supply. Shields, for example, can only be dealt with by subverters and crashbeams. Turrets, at least, you can turn off if you come at them from the right direction… Shielded guys? Nope. Similarly, if you don’t have something armour piercing or explosive, you’re screwed regarding armoured guys who spot you. Those are the only truly egregious examples, but yes, some enemies just aren’t killable without either blowing up the room they’re in, or stuff.

Secondly, over time, the Revolution will tire of you. After a certain point, your liberations, your strikes against the four Mans of the game (the Foundry, the Glitch, Sovereign, and Offworld Security… Independents also exist, but don’t have a specific style, usually just denoted with “They’ve gone rogue, they won’t be running to anybody.”) won’t be as effective in liberating the stations, which provide challenge runs, possible unlockable defectors, and, of course, better stuff in the shop, be that armour piercing weaponry, rechargeable teleporters (Glitching reality in specific and interesting ways), better pod types (like the Foundry Brick, which can just ram its way into a ship rather than have to faff about with all this “Airlock” stuff), and the like. You’re not the hot new flavour of the month, Pavo, it’s maybe time to either retire or go out in the blaze of glory you deserve. After all, the end-goal of the game is to capture all four main factions’ home bases. Your “personal” mission? Even if you finish it, that will be so that you can pass on one of your things (aka, part of your stuff), to ensure it has extra nice traits for somebody, somewhere in the interwubs playing the game. Maybe even you!

Sorry buddy, nothing personal, but you have a key I need.

Similarly, you can, as a personal mission (Personal missions are always max difficulty), rescue another player’s character, giving them… Perhaps a fresh start? For a time, anyway… As noted, the Revolution cares not for Johnny-Come-Latelies, only the New Hotness.

Overall, the game is somewhat friendly to play, as, for all that it can get twitchy at moments, time slows down when you’re doing something, like lining up a shot or an item use, you can freely switch between items by pausing with no penalty I could see, and, beyond the visual designs of the ships being somewhat hard to read at first, the important parts (the guards, the keys, the captain, the timer, and boxes from which you can steal more items) are very clear. There are also clever ways of doing things, if you have the balls and the right idea… Luring or Swapping an enemy into your ship, then taking off, for example, knocks them out, letting you murder or capture them at your leisure. A Sidewinder or two, cleverly used, can teleport you in hops to the objective or the captain, as, once the captain’s down, alarms no longer trigger. You can even, if you’re ballsy and skilled, blow someone out of a window, and catch both them and yourself with your pod, remote controlled.

So, in the end, Heat Signature is a fairly well designed game. Even folks with silly equipment can, with planning (or a plan you’re not sure will work because holy crap, the first plan failed spectactularly but you aren’t dead and you have a few seconds and… Wait, it worked?), be dealt with. Nonetheless, even acknowledging this, I freely admit I don’t like Heat Signature. Not because it’s a bad game, because it isn’t.

Ships get *big* , and chock full of deadly things in the higher difficulty missions… and Personal missions are always the *deadliest*

But holy crap, do I not like being reminded of the subtext on display here.

The Mad Welshman would very much like armour piercing concussive weapons. Hopefully one day, he will find them. Or make them. It matters not.

Oxygen Not Included (Oil Update, Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I can, even at this relatively early stage of Klei’s survival sim, see a few obvious things. Firstly, due to the very nature of Oxygen Not Included, I get easily frustrated. Secondly, plumbers and electricians are deities among humankind. Not a lot of this makes sense until you realise that the core element of the game is that it’s a survival management game… In a closed system. Oxygen is most definitely not included. It must be earned. And, past about day 10, this is a near constant struggle.

Yes, I get frustrated with it easily. But that definitely doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the vision here.

When Digging Out Water-Pools Backfires Horribly, a TMW Special.

In any case, the basic idea is very simple: You start with three “Duplicants” (clones, basically), stranded mysteriously by a teleporting gate (that also, periodically, is able to “print” new Duplicants.) They start with a ration box, and a small room that has some oxygen, and from there? Well, everything. Outhouses. You need those. And sinks to clean up. Wait, now you need water to wash with. Beds. Food. Electricity to power de-oxidisers and research stations. Algae to run those de-oxidisers, and dirt and more water for research. Wait, crap, you forgot about the carbon dioxide buildup, got to put that somewhere… And the poop. And the bad water. And so it goes, on and on until you’re trying to displace all the waste heat your generators and de-oxidisers and wires and pipes are making.

It is, perhaps, the first game I’ve come across where it becomes more complicated the more established you are. Because, of course, all of these actions, from growing to laying pipes to manning fans and giant hamster wheels, take time. And sure, more people will mean more gets done, but more people also means more CO2 generated. More food eaten. And, because Duplicants have flaws like consuming more oxygen than their compatriots, having a weak bladder, farting a lot… You have to choose your Duplicants wisely, as well. Heck, everything has to be chosen wisely, and, as I’ve mentioned, the further you get, the bigger the scale of the things you have to do, to deal with the buildup of problems over time. I highly expect, by the time I get to day 50, that I’ll have to build an oxygen pump at the top of my base, running a heat dissipating pipe through several areas I don’t care about (but will have to dig through and survive), before finally pumping that good, and most importantly, cooler air near the bottom of my base. Not the exact bottom, you understand… I have to have somewhere the CO2’s going to… Oh wait, now I need to dig down. Crap.

Not Pictured: Me panicking as I realise I’m going to run out of Algae *and* Hydrogen before I can build and power a Slime to Algae Converter.

Right now, there isn’t an end-goal to the game, although there are tantalising hints and things to be discovered. Offices, isolated in the middle of this asteroid in nowhere. Vending machines, with notices not to put harmful materials in. Brains in jars, that give your Duplicants new or improved skills, providing you find them. And, of course, beasties. The simple Hatch, which can be useful for their ability to eat things and poop coal, but will also, unchecked, eat the food destined for your colonist’s bellies. The Slimepuff, which can make slime in areas of polluted oxygen… Whether you want them to or not. And, of course, germs. There’s more, obviously, but I want at least some mystery for the new player.

Overall, I look forward to seeing where Oxygen Not Included goes, because when it comes to survival games, you can’t really top this in terms of challenge without becoming deeply unfair and unfun. As it is, I can see the long-term frustration inherent to its core premise turning folks off, but I also appreciate the thought and craftsmanship that’s gone into making even surviving to 100 days plus possible without resorting to “Eh, this thing just makes the air cooler/adds oxygen/just removes a need” to this point.

MYSTERY!

The Mad Welshman is pleased to announce that Klei have entered the hallowed ranks of “These developers slightly intimidate me.” He politely asks that they not abuse this honour.