Hacktag (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Even after release, Hacktag remains an odd sort of beast to me. It is, and, at the same time, isn’t my sort of game. It remains recommended because, despite my own problems, it is, nonetheless, an interesting and fairly accessible take on co-op stealth/hacking games.

Oops… I see trouble in my future…

Goodness me, that was a bit of a mouthful. Let’s back up a sec. Hacktag is, at the same time, competitive and co-operative, involving an anthropomorphic (that’s animals as people, in this case) world of corporate espionage, in which two players steal data in one of three mission types, either as a stealth operative, or a hacker. The gameplay in each is different, but has the same base idea: Do the things, don’t get caught, and if you do get caught, hope your friend (or you, in the case of Solo play) don’t get caught trying to bust you out. Occasionally, you do things together, and, overall, it’s a tense experience.

Aesthetically, the game works fairly well. Clear visuals, some good stealthy music, ramping up to fever pitch when, inevitably, something goes to hell, and its icons and tutorialising are pretty clear. The controls are understandable, and it comes in the three flavours of multiplayer (friends or random players), local (Two players, one machine), and solo (switching between controlling characters with TAB, the majority of my experience with the game.)

Mainframe hacking is the mission type added for release, and it’s a long, tense haul…

I’ve already mentioned that I find it a little odd that, despite its co-op nature, players are scored (and level up) separately, especially as co-operation is, in at least some cases, mandatory. Indeed, part of the tensions comes from situations like one player trying to unlock the way ahead for the other, to run into a situation like the alarm trap, which requires both players to deactivate (Indeed, one of the pictures of this review is a fine example of when this happens.) Nonetheless, unlockables, co-op play, an interesting visual style… There’s a lot to recommend it.

It isn’t, as it turns out, my particular cup of tea, but if you’re looking for something new in a relatively small genre (at the present time, anyway), this may well be worth a look.

As far as I am aware, while this deeply resembles a lootbox, Coins are earned in-game. Nonetheless, I did get a little skittish when I noticed this…

The Mad Welshman isn’t, as it turns out, much of a multiplayer feller.

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Into The Breach (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£16.18 w/Soundtrack, £4.79 for Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Minor paraphrasing aside, Into the Breach sums up, in its own title, how I’ve felt while reviewing it. Once more, unto the breach, dear friends! ONCE! MORE! I’m less enthused about the part where I close up the walls with the English dead, but that’s mainly because I don’t have all that many to close the walls with, and I’m pretty sure most of my mech pilots aren’t English to begin with…

OOPS. Welp, back to the time machine, folks!

…Still, Into the Breach is Subset games’ latest foray into their particular brand of tight, replay dependent strategy, in which three mech pilots (One of which, at any given time, is a traveller from a future where things went horribly wrong) try to hold back an insectile menace, mostly without backup. It’s turn based, and with the clever gimmick that, due to time travelling shenanigans, you already know what your enemy is going to do. Well, to a certain extent. You know what they’re shooting at (and are capable of), and you can take advantage of this to, for example, shove one of them with artillery or a punch in such a way that they actually hit their bugfriends this time around.

As such, it’s a highly tactical game with a lot of depth, which you might not realise looking at screenshots, as every mission is an 8×8 map. On its most basic level, there’s always at least as many of them as you (unless you’re super good), so simply doing damage isn’t enough. In fact, at least some of the time, you’re merely going to be concentrating on avoiding housing damage, as, with enough loss of life, that’s it, the Vek have reached critical mass, time to bug out and maybe find a timeline where you did better (taking one pilot with you.) But then, it adds layers. Pushing and pulling enemies as well as hitting them. Status effects. Synergies. Environmental considerations.

Ahhh, nothing like saving the day by setting things on fire, and then shoving things *into* fire. Or acid. Hell, just plain water does well sometimes too!

Since explaining everything would most likely be rather dull, let me focus on a team that I never thought I’d like… And yet, they consistently get closer to victory than any of my other mech groups. Heck, even their name (The Rusting Hulks) and their price to unlock (a measly 2 coins) doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. The fact that one of their units doesn’t even hurt enemies seems, at very first glance, like the waste of a unit. But this is where it gets fun. Because, you see, the other two units drop smoke. Smoke which, to them and them alone, also electrocutes enemies at the beginning of their turn, on top of what smoke normally does in this game: Stop you being able to attack if you’re in it.

This may not seem useful, but consider this: An enemy not attacking, and taking damage, is a net plus. An enemy that can’t fly shoved into water, or two enemies with 1 HP being shoved into each other with violent gravitic force is not only a plus, it’s being classy as hell. I don’t need powerful beam weaponry, giant fists, or superscience shenanigans. I have smoke and mirrors. What with the different teams each having an interesting style of play, the ability to play with random mechs, and the ability to pick and choose teams, with achievements (and thus further team unlocks) for experimenting? Now that’s what I call encouraging replay and diversity of play, friends…

It hasn’t taken me terribly long to get to the point where things have slowed down a little (A straight night of play has earned me all of the islands, most of the pilots, and some of the teams, with two almost wins) , but, even with everything unlocked, I see the potential here for me coming back. What if I have an all-shoving team? Or having to watch my collateral with highly damaging beam weaponry? Hrm. Hrrrrrrrm!

Smoke and mirrors. Okay, and riding the lightning too, but let’s not go overboard here!
…Okay, let’s go overboard.

It helps that the music is tense, fitting, and atmospheric, the sound solid, the visual aesthetic similarly tight and consistent, and, best of all, it tutorialises fairly well, and is pretty clear. I would consider this a pretty strong purchase for strategy fans, and another fine example to add to my collection of designing clearly and tightly to goals. Props.

Burninate the towns… Burninate… Oh, wait, no, that’s the opposite of what The Mad Welshman is meant to be doing! Sorrrreeeee!

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Miss Fisher And The Deathly Maze, Episodes 1 and 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s a somewhat sad truth that there are very few games about detectives that make you feel like a detective. Unless, of course, you’re after the Lestrade experience, where you bang things together until somebody archly takes you aside and tells you how you’ve been doing it wrong all this time. And so it is with the Miss Fisher Mysteries episodic adventures so far, an oddly hollow experience after you reach past the surface value of it being more adventures of one of the more characterful and interesting detectives in recent history.

Ah yes, the opera. Noted purveyors of Hoyyotoyoho…

On the absolute surface of it, the music is fitting (It should be, a fair amount of it comes from the show), the paintings of the characters and locations are solid, and it’s accessible. But even here, oddities begin showing up. No windowed mode (or, more accurately, you can Alt-Enter, but it won’t be terribly useful.) Saves are within episodes (so you have to start the episode to load a save, going through at least the introductory cutscene.) If you guessed, by the price, that the cast of the television series were not going to make an appearance (or, indeed, voice acting), you’d be 100% correct. That, at least, I’m not really willing to judge beyond making a note of it.

The rest, however? That, I’m willing to look at a little harder, and, honestly, it just feels unsatisfying. It’s an adventure game of the “One correct path, and no progress until you do the thing” variety, and progressing… Well, when the first episode is resolved with repeated “Talk” commands (and, in the context, this is rather lacklustre ), I can’t help but feel a little cheated. This is a dramatic moment, folks, why the variety of textboxes? Both episodes can be completed in a single afternoon, but… Even knowing this, after the first episode, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to. And a big part of this is that it feels more like a highlight reel, sapped of context, than a fleshed out adventure.

Ah yes, one of those times when Dot is shown something “sinful” in order to progress the plot. Noted running theme.

Ah yes. Here’s the bit where Phryne scandalises her aunt, yes, we want that. And the bit where she tells Jack she’s not a settling person (being a strong, independent woman of the 20s/30s.) Here’s a brief bit of 20s colour, in the form of a speakeasy, yes. Oh, and the bit where progress is being impeded, effectively, by the patriarchal obsession with proprietry. All gone by in the space of an hour, largely unexplored, only… Sort of there. Oh, and we know you like Murdoch Foyle, so he’s our cad and bounder of the hour (or, more accurately, couple of hours.)

There’s some other stuff too, such as finding Phryne’s dresses (finding things seems to be an obsession with these more casual adventures, I’ve noticed. Odd), but, on examination? It’s window dressing. Very accessible window dressing, make no mistake, for, as noted, the game will simply refuse to progress until you’ve done the right thing, and your options are, essentially “Look at thing”, “Talk to person”, and “Bang clues together until you have a new one or a changed one.”

I’d say this would maybe be a short, enjoyable romp for folks who are fans of the Phryne Fisher mysteries, but…. I’m a fan of them, and my time so far has felt like popcorn: Briefly tasting nice, before I realise I’ve spent dosh on something that’s going to make me hungrier…

Here’s your general guide to Murdoch Foyle, serving double duty in this scene as one of two clues you’re given *in* the scene to bang together!

The Mad Welshman often has difficulty, with short games like this, to avoid spoilers in the images. He hopes that nothing has surprised you, as he picked on the basis that it didn’t surprise him.

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Dungreed (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Dungreed is an odd game to me, in that it is, in its first hour or two, definitely enjoyable, but, due to the nature of its progression, becomes… Well, a bit of a slog from the middle of it onward. Which is a shame, because some of its bosses are actually quite interesting and amusing.

So, to sum Dungreed’s basics up simply, you are an adventurer, who’s come to rescue a town from a dungeon that’s literally eaten the village. It’s an action platformer shooty/slashy type deal with rooms put together procedurally, and, importantly, at the end of each run, you lose all but your basic shortsword, and most of your money.

Pictured: Possibly the most fun boss in the game so far.

“But wait, Jamie, why would the game do something so cruel?” Well, partly to introduce variety, partly to give you a chance to level up, and partly so you end up interacting with the villagers you save, all of whom add a selection of kit to the dungeon’s random drops, a few random NPCs wandering around, and features that are meant to make your next run just that little bit easier. The Blacksmith, for example, gives you a random item. Could be a weapon, could be an accessory, could be ranged, could be melee. The shopkeeper lets you buy things (for when you’ve not got any NPCs to build village features for), the trainer levels you up (with each 5 points in a stat adding an ability to your stable like double jumping, shopkeepers costing less, or extra damage), and so on.

And then you start from the beginning. Which, funnily enough, is both its problem, and not one I can see much of a win for. See, the bosses are fine, and one, Niflheim, caused me to laugh and cry out to my friend “Wow, I just got killed by a Touhou in a roguelike!” (As her boss pattern, music, and aesthetic are all highly reminiscent of bullet hell shooters, specifically the Touhou games.) But by the time I’ve gotten to Niflheim, I’ve gone through several floors, with much the same preffered weaponry, having consigned much the same equipment to either use, or, more commonly, what can be called vendor/altar trash. Some, like the Matchlock Rifle with its pause before firing as well as a slow reload, more readily than others.

The further I get, the further I have to go, and the less I enjoy the preceding run up to whatever boss comes next, as, until I meet a new boss or a villager, all I’m doing is… Marking time. Time which increases the further I get.

A mix of melee and ranged is recommended, but heck, most of the ranged options are so much fun!

Which is a real shame to me, as the game’s aesthetically consistent, does some fun things with its music (As noted, Niflheim’s boss music is highly reminiscent of its inspiration) , and the enemies do have variety and interest… Just… Not quite enough to keep me going for this final stretch. Fun at first, it’s become, over time… Alright.

The Mad Welshman is a walker by habit, as opposed to a marathon runner.

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Vagante (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam , Humble Store

Called it. I said, in the first Early Access review I did of Vagante, that I would be tired of its shit by release, and lo… Release has hit, and I am well and truly glad to have this off my docket. That may seem mean, but let’s unpack exactly why I so heavily dislike Vagante.

Everything else I’ve been reviewing this month has, in its way, expanded upon the procgen/roguelike formula. Accessibility. Quality of life. Vagante, meanwhile, makes it quite clear that its response to issues I have with the difficulty curve are, essentially, “git gud.” And I’ve made it quite clear in the past how badly I respond to that.

Let’s play a game of “Spot the Character.” Take your time, I can wait…

Let us take, as an example, the bosses of the first three levels of the dungeon. Two of the three have projectile attacks with damage over time, and like to stay out of your reach. Combine this with the rarity of healing items, and melee is either a case of damage racing the enemy (Providing, of course, you have the hit points to do so, as all melee attacks are fixed animations you can’t interrupt, and daggers, previously a go-to, are now slow enough that they are once again a weak option), or timing your attacks just so, over a protracted period of waiting for your single-blow opening, dodging and leaping projectiles, and luring the boss somewhere where you can actually hit them before getting a blow off. Bosses are, naturally, a bundle of hit points, so this can take a while.

Okay, so we can cross the Warrior and Wildling off the “enjoyable to play” list in the very first area (The second area’s bosses seem to actively punish melee users.) What about the two ranged classes, the Rogue and the Mage? Well, as mentioned, while, previously, the Rogue’s dagger could avoid in-level enemy damage a lot of the time, and generally do well in the damage race due to sheer speed, the bow remains, as explored in the previous Early Access review, a case of “Draw for a second, release… Do as much damage as a single sword blow, maybe as much as a heavy axe on a crit. Enemy must be in shortish range from you, good luck avoiding those fireballs/poison globules.” It’s not often I say this, but the Mage, weak as their starting “weapon” is (a staff with a limited number of charges, charging by, er… hitting the enemy with its weak, slow attack), is a good choice, as they have some short range spells that do decent damage, relatively quickly… But, again, your starting attack relies on the enemy being nearby and in front of you, which, with fireballs and the like, isn’t a good idea, and it’s very much potluck if you get, for example, Frost Nova, a spell that has a chance of freezing the enemy for a vital few seconds.

DRAGON uses NOT ON SAME Y AXIS. It’s SUPER EFFECTIVE.

So far, I’ve described something unenjoyable, if not tedious. But wait, it gets better! It’s pretty dark, unless you have certain items (random drop chance), and instakill or damaging traps await, such as spikes (instadeath if you fall, or are knocked onto them, with the saving grace that enemies are also killed by them. Not bosses though), blockfall traps (mostly, thankfully, easy to spot once you know how, but still an occasional killer when, say, concentrating on an enemy), and worms (invincible until they attack, somewhat hard to see at times.) Want a heavier, more damaging weapon? Congratulations, you’ve found an axe, or a hammer, both of which… Are slow as hell, and have a minimum range on their hitbox. With melee enemies pretty much all rushing you as best they can.

In a way, it’s intriguing to me that a game can be so actively designed against its player characters, but alas, this has the side-effect that, for all that there may well be interesting things in the third dungeon area, for all that there may be new things to see, I most likely never will. Because the game is released, and I am so very done with it.

Goodbye, Vagante. I will fondly remember the time you had an option that wasn’t a tedious time.

Hrm. Big open area. 55 HP. Yup, I confidently predict I’m going to die, here on the first level.
And you’re probably as sick of seeing the Dragon now as I am.

The Mage is now seemingly the most viable class. I’d like that to sink in for a second.

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