WORLD OF HORROR (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: PWYW (Developer Patreon also an option)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

When the first thing a friend asks me on showing them a shot of the game is “Was this programmed in HyperCard?” , I know that, on an aesthetic level, WORLD OF HORROR, a short investigative adventure game inspired by early Mac games and the horrific art of Junji Ito, is definitely working as intended. And, considering the game’s short and sweet as well at the present stage of its development? The stars are seemingly aligned.

…Alas, not, generally speaking, in my favour. Oh well, nobody said stopping reality from breaking was easy!

Backing up a bit, WORLD OF HORROR (caps intended) is currently in a demo stage, showing off the three main methods of play (Single area, timed investigation; home/progressive investigation; location/day based investigation.) It’s a game in which high school students of Horror Japan (The city of OOO, In the year 19XX) are the only hope of even delaying eldritch horror based apocalypse, often based on urban myths, such as Red Coat or Bloody Mary, or on J-Horror themes, like a festival of sacrifice and the like.

While each playstyle is different, some things remain the same throughout. Combat is brutal, as, y’know, students versus ancient evils, ghosts, witches and killers rarely ends well. Items and spells, while useful, are always double edged swords. And each case can be completed (for good or for ill) in around ten to twenty minutes. As such, while the game is difficult, it’s short enough that I genuinely don’t mind that I’ve either died horribly or ushered in the apocalypse in all but one of my runs so far. Not everything is clear in the game (the DOOM meter, for example, doesn’t seem to do much right now), but again, short runs let me get used to things like quickly checking my inventory, and experimenting with buttons to see what they do (The 1 and 2 are important with the first case, as is checking your storage!)

See, on the one hand, exploring school in a Kendo Helmet looks silly. On the *other* , it’s protection. More important than my fashion sense.

So, while there’s not currently a lot of game in WORLD OF HORROR, what there is is quick, relatively easy to get into despite some minor unfriendlinesses in the UI, and it plays to its retro-aesthetic strengths well, with eerie chiptunes, clever 1-bit art (Not necessarily black and white, as the title card allows you to change between a variety of dark/colour palettes… I went with a nice, soothing cyan), and, overall? I found myself wanting to see more of this strange, bloody world.

More. So much more…

Hopefully a portent of things to come, but the main UI changes according to need.

The Mad Welshman is IN.

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Deep Sixed (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

I was only talking about cheery dystopias a few weeks back, and yet, here we are with Deep Sixed, a game that has all the fun hallmarks. Remember, if your reactor is critically leaking, you may wish to repair it. If you cannot repair it, you may wish to send an emergency beacon. If the emergency beacon is not working, you may wish to send an emergency beacon.

Okay, I got *part* of it right.

Okay, so that’s not exactly what’s said, but the general sentiment, among others, is there, carefully and cheerily enunciated by the voice actress for URSA, the AI companion on your indefinite corrective period of exploration and adventure.

Which, translated, means: You’re indentured to explore a nebula on behalf of a corporation, because you fucked up, and your ship is a hunk of junk that will probably kill you if the local life forms don’t. This works both for and against the game. Let’s start with that good ol’ “For” column.

Deep Sixed does one thing quite well, and that’s setting its mood. You’re isolated, so your only contact with… Well, anyone is either email, mission descriptions, or your handy dandy (until it breaks) AI companion, URSA. You’re clearly not valued as anything more than an expendable resource, because your ship’s a hunk of junk, and only by doing jobs for the company can you make it anything but, or repair massive damage… And it will still break down with distressing regularity. Oh, and you’re not a trained worker, why would you be? So you get a manual of iffy usefulness, to help you with the repairs you’re inevitably going to be doing… Alone.

Ugh. Of *course* nobody told me the job would involve getting slimed. Of *course* they didn’t…

And, on a quiet mission, with only a few problems, this is fine. It adds atmosphere, and the fact that some of the missions are themselves an exercise in tedium is, itself, part of the allure. But when things go drastically wrong, as they inevitably will?

ARGH. One early example was after I’d discovered the existence (through a plot mission) of Zephyrlings. Zephyrlings run in packs. Zephyrlings can quickly short the power of your modules, forcing you to waste valuable time flipping to the power room to repower the viewing stations, and combat with multiple opponents is best described as “An exercise in slow, painful, and frustrating death.” There are thing to make it somewhat easier, like shields, a deceleration field that can slow some enemies, and a hotkey for switching laser types… But combat is definitely one of the weaker parts of the game, and, interestingly enough, creates the more difficult to solve problems (recalibrating lasers, repairing hull damage mid fight, combatting fires mid fight.) There is an “Easy” mode, but, beyond actually telling you what problems exist, allowing pre-mission saves, and disabling achievements, it’s not… All that much easier.

As such, despite its charm, the woman of colour protagonist, some pretty good voice acting and writing, and some interesting ideas, overall, Deep Sixed turns me off. It’s not that these difficulties are insurmountable. It’s not that you can’t learn how to be a good captain of a shitty ship. It’s not that the game isn’t working well… Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s simply that this kind of experience, while interesting in small bursts, isn’t great for me overall. If you like a game that is tough, but with the toughness coming more from stimulus overload than lack of clarity, then perhaps Deep Sixed is for you.

As it turns out, reading the manual for fixing oxygen leaks while oxygen leaks are happening is… A bad idea.

The Mad Welshman would like to note the devs appear receptive to constructive criticism, as noted by the addition of continuing from saves to Easy Mode just prior to this review being written.

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The Alpha Device (Review)

Source: Free
Price: Free
Where To Get It (Free) : Steam

For all that the “Walk in a desolate area and listen to audiologs/read notes” subgenre of computer games is much maligned (and sometimes rightly so), when done well, minimalism can be turned to advantage, and the story becomes so much the richer. So it is, for me at least, with The Alpha Device, a game that definitely has its flaws (One of which confuses me greatly), but, storywise, enthralled and entertained me.

Simple geometric shapes are fun when you put them together, kids!

Let’s get those aforementioned flaws out of the way first. If you’re not a fan of the school of graphic design among indie games of “Return unto the mostly untextured, if not uncoloured polygons”, then odds are you’ll be predisposed not to like this. Which would be a shame, as the game does clever things with simple shapes (Clever things like using simple shapes as templates to poke holes in other simple shapes… To make shapes that become both more full of holes and chunky bits.) Furthermore, the game is gamepad only, which, I must say, confuses the hell out of me, considering it’s coded in the Unity engine, which makes both multiple control schemes and other quality of life improvements… Well, not a doddle, but certainly not beyond. Still, the game is effectively free, so it would be highly impolite of me to do more than express my confusion there.

Now… The voice acting is an advertising point of the game, and considering that the sole voice actor, David Hewlett, is well known, and has proven his chops multiple times, this is a good point. He really sells the bitterness of one of the last human beings well, that loss and confusion, swinging easily into the undercurrent of hopeless anger that characterises his own storyline. It helps that the story surprised me with how, like Mr. Hewlett’s acting, it swings comfortably between scales, moving from the galactic to the personal, back and fore in a slowly closing gyre, to its twist conclusion. The twist, admittedly, felt a tiny bit off, but only a tiny bit, as it was more that it relies on you realising the dissonance of the audio logs (and your discovery thereof) , than a not-twist, or some other, completely out of the blue revelation with no foreshadowing.

Not pictured: Some good voice acting.

And then… Ah, well. While the game is, technically, quite short, lasting approximately an hour, this is a technically. I won’t spoil the precise mechanics of that technically, but it was fitting, it was clever, in its way, and it satisfied my black little heart, for, listening to the story, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of anger of my own in sympathy with the protagonist.

As such? Well worth a look if you like minimalistic storytelling.

Simple. Geometric. Shapes.

The Mad Welshman has done his best to keep this review spoiler free. That is all.

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Slasher’s Keep (Early Access Review)

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

One thing that has always interested me is the use of older game design techniques, but with the quality of life improvements and changes that come from modern game design. So when I quite quickly noticed that Slasher’s Keep mixes hand drawn, eight angle “sprites” , mixed with cartoonishly textured 3D models, I immediately thought “IN.”

Why thank you for the kind offer of your loot, Mister Moleman. Nothing to do with this hammer I wield, I hope!

I’m happy to say that it’s been charming me more, the further I get. At least partly because, in its quiet way, it is ensuring I get further. And it feels good. Surviving to the second level means I can start finding chutes, through which I can drop equipment from higher levels to the beginning. It also means a shop, somewhat useful when I have vendor trash. Get to the third, and those bits of crafting materials I’ve found can be made into new, spankier weapons… Which it may sometimes be a good idea to just drop in the chute already, knowing that even the swanky kit won’t guarantee my continued breathing abilities.

Each time I die, yes, I lose money, stats, and all the kit I didn’t bung down the shoot… But stat gaining potions, the fact that potion drops scale with you, and the fact that a quarter of your XP can easily be regained (and a bit on top) in a good run, means that slowly, but surely, I’m making my way up, and, importantly, seeing more of the comedy of errors that is Slasher’s Keep.

And there’s no doubt, from the mumbling stone idol that occasionally crops up, goblinoid pin-ups (Including one I was cruelly… Okay, I wasn’t forced to destroy a really good goblinoid pin up, but it was in the way of a treasure chest), and even the introduction show that yes, this is a light hearted game. I mean, if you’d been locked in a cell all the time, with a hole in the wall showing keys just out of reach, would you just… Try pushing the cell door, to realise it didn’t have any hinges?

I like to think I craft metaphors as well as deadly, flaming-icy weaponry.

Well, okay, maybe you would, in reality. But this is a dungeon hack in a comic fantasy world, we’ll have none of this “Common sense” malarkey!

With all this gushing, you’d think, perhaps, that Old Grumpy Reviewer Durbin wouldn’t be unmasked as the monster this time, that there’d be nothing to criticise, and that the Mystery Gang wouldn’t have to pull his latest monster mask off his head to muttery grumblings. But alas, as I often say, no game is perfect, and Slasher’s Keep does do some things that get on my (perky) norks.

That map generation needs a bit more work is understandable. Procgen maps are surprisingly hard, and I can’t really begrudge that. But it must be said that yes, there are dead ends to no good purpose, sometimes at the end of a rather long corridor. Less forgivable, perhaps, are some of the ranged enemies. Specifically, the bugs and skulls. See, it’s Slasher’s Keep, not Waiter’s Keep, and I get rather annoyed when, due to an unforeseen mana shortage, I have to either laboriously trick my insectoid opponent to maybe not retreat over the chasm for the twelfth time, or my bony friends to maybe, just maybe, get on with that screaming plunge attack that inevitably leads to their demise, rather than the floating and shooting me from afar thing they seem so fond of? Mana shortages, in this context, are usually unforeseen because only one wand is effectively hitscan, and so shooting at bugs and skulls rapidly loses me all my mana. As such, skulls and bugs are rapidly achieving the not-really-coveted status of “Well, they’re FUCKING BATS to me, mate!”

Especially as, occasionally, challenge rooms (Where the challenge is “You walked into the room, and now you’re locked in until everything but you (or you) is (are) dead”) will entirely consist of… Bugs or skulls.

I mean, okay, I lost stuff, got stripped, and thrown back in, but not only am I stronger… I’m still hot. So my jailors can suck it.

Otherwise, it’s very enjoyable as a first person procgen comedy murderbrawl, and comes highly recommended otherwise.

The Mad Welshman kindly asks for confirmation whether the stone idol’s accent is indeed Brummy. He still has the scars from confusing Liverpool and Hove, and would like to avoid further accent related injuries…

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Anchorhead (Review)

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

It is only now, in writing the events of this narrative, that I consider how I am to be viewed. Reader, do not consider me possessed, or speaking nonsense, for the events I write of actually happened, although I sometimes wish it was not to be.

Content warnings… And yet… I pressed on…

In my youth, I was fresh faced, always willing to explore the realms of the digital from its earliest incarnations. Sights I had witnessed, from the terminal to the advent of Gouraud and beyond. Oh, that I could tear such knowledge from my head, for time is an illusion!

Consider… Twenty years it had been, since last I visited Anchorhead, Massacheusets, and, stumblingly, witnessed the tragedy of Michael Verlac and his wife, and the terrifying, awesome words that comprised that tale. Indeed, words were my only means of witnessing, through some digital alchemy, interactivity that had its roots in the bubbling, chaotic cauldron of the birth of the games industry twenty years before. Twenty years, and twenty years, and maybe longer still, for it was itself related to the horrific prose of Lovecraft, whose prose was only rivalled by his now reviled beliefs.

Knowing that eldritch monuments were often worshipped by fey cults of ill aspect, I made sure to check the exits to this ill omened square…

And yet… Before me, it stood. Anchorhead, once more. The same tragedy, replaying, calling me to save, and save often, warning me of its CONTENTS beforehand. And yet, G-d help me, I played the tragedy through once more. Through its haunted, prose filled streets. Listening, and urging the wife of Michael Verlac on through this tragedy, a multiplicity of horror, death, and, rarely, hope, stretching in front of me as I played the part of both demon and angel upon her shoulders. Only now, windows into the world, this other, shady world of gray and black and white horrors, added to my despair, for I knew that Anchorhead… Lived.

The window! It resizes! The font grows bigger, drawing me in! I must –

>HELP

The Mad Welshman found this review on his doorstep one morning, for the recently re-released Anchorhead, a critically acclaimed interactive fiction game. The author has yet to be found, although it is wished they are in good health…

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