Archive for the ‘Game Reviews’ Category:

Pharmakon (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £7.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Pharmakon is a game I want to like because, goodness me, it tries to experiment. It even tries to make its own experience less frustrating. Let’s talk a little bit about what it is, first, before we deal with why, sadly, I’m not its biggest fan.

Thankfullly, this is a wee beast, and of an element I’m fully prepared for.

Pharmakon is a turn based combat game in which you, an Elemental Agent, are sent to a remote world filled with aggressive, equally elemental monsters, because… Well, as it turns out, mostly to die. You think you’re the first Agent to be here, are rapidly disabused of this notion, and then things get a bit odd, story wise. To the developer’s credit, although English is not their first language (Visumeca hails from France), they’ve done okay in localising, although some of the speech is a little stilted. In any case, you fight these creatures with your drone, the power of which depends on three things: First, what elemental tetrominoes you’ve plugged into its awkward casing. These tetrominoes, in turn, can be destroyed if you think you don’t need them (You only have a limited storage space, after all) to add to your repair stores for their respective elemental damage values. Secondly, the number of times you’ve fired, charging up a skill meter, and finally, those skills. Unlocked by progression through the story (More on that in a bit), levelling up involves firing lasers of various element through skill icons, from four different directions. Opposing elements block each other, and this elemental interplay resides throughout the game.

This, on the other hand, is big trouble. I’m *not* going to come out of this well, and will probably die in the next phase.

So… Having explained the basics, let’s go into why I’m not its biggest fan, although it does try. Let’s start with dying. Dying does not end the story. What happens when you die is that a new Agent is sent, with their inventory filled with one element. The monster progression, however, doesn’t change, which means that, once you’ve started dying, odds are high you’ll keep dying, because you don’t have the elemental variety to keep up. It’s only mildly less annoying to note, again, that dying does not stop you from progressing in the story. I have been informed that a theme of this game is perseverance, but, unfortunately, despite being told so, it doesn’t show very well in the game or the story, as Agents will say the same thing in the story no matter who they are.

Visuallly, the game is very clear, and although the angle doesn’t show it too well, a lot of effort has gone into making a variety of beasties to fight. You quickly ascertain what things do, although the first few fights are an extended tutorial, just to make sure. The sound and music are okay, nothing special, but they set the mood, and they don’t feel out of place, which is what’s needed.

Elements that don’t react with each other, thankfully, work well. Each extra icon I grab lowers the cost of a special ability.

As such, Pharmakon is not a bad game, and it does do interesting things, but the killing of monsters and the levelling up is pretty much all there is to it. If you’re okay with that, if you want to check out something that experiments, and has a few flaws that make it drag on, then I’d say give it a go.

The Mad Welshman is of Element Moustache. It has no weakness, only strength. Well, that’s what it tells you, anyway. Muahahahahaaa.

Zafehouse Diaries 2 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £4.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Zombies. Zombies never change. Wars. Bigotry. History… But zombies… Zombies… Never change.

Okay, maybe they do. Fast zombies, big zombies, little zombies… There’s a lot of zombies out there, but Zafehouse Diaries 2, like its predecessor, pretty much sticks with our shambling, flocking, endlessly moaning dead folks. It also tries to update the “Bunch of bigoted assholes are the only ‘survivors’ of a zombie apocalypse” formula Screwfly used in their very first game, Zafehouse Diaries 1, and…

Mark, like many of his ilk, is dancing around the fact that he judges books by their covers, or, more specifically, the *colour* of their covers. Redemption is possible, but I foresee head noms in his future…

…Honestly, Zafehouse Diaries 2 is one I feel conflicted about, because while there’s undeniably more to the game than its predecessor, there’s also more confusion. The Investigate/Snipe/Breach interface, for example, has become a little less clear. Click on the little icon to customise what you’re doing. This is kind of important, because that involves taking things with you, just one example of things you could be doing.

In any case, it’s a turn based strategy game in which you marshall a bunch of survivors, trying to feed yourselves, deal with internal conflicts, and, in at least some cases, try to get the hell out of town. Folks can work together on tasks, but, as in many zombie media, the survivors come from all walks of life, including howling bigots. Timothy, a middle class musician, doesn’t “like the look of” Dana, because he’s a racist. Jeffrey doesn’t like women. Dana, meanwhile, has beef with older folks (like Timothy, funnily enough.) Spreading rumours once a day can improve the mood, but it can also backfire horrendously. Heck, you can do it deliberately, if you really want to.

Not gonna lie, I kinda blinked a bit at this rumour. The options are racists and foreigners, and while it makes sense after thought… It did make me blink for a bit.

There are several scenarios, from the return of Road Kill (find a roadmap, a car, a repair manual, and five bits to repair a car to get out of town before everyone dies) to the new Kill Switch (Five soldiers, no relationship problems, stop an airstrike while nastier zombies try to wreck the town’s power grid.) As before, you can add custom content, such as making yourself in the game, but custom content (and indeed, changing the difficulty via the Custom Game option) stops you getting achievements. Similarly, there are events in game, such as the Piper, an asshole in a pickup truck who gives you the option of giving one of your folks as zombie bait, or having a tantrum, and beeping his horn as he drives off, attracting zombies. I hate the Piper.

Sadly, it isn’t the friendliest of games. Although Screwfly have clearly made an effort to improve over Zafehouse 1, making more things clear, such as customising orders, it’s a game where reading the manual (Which is in-game, under Help) is very important.

Overall, visually, Zafehouse Diaries 2 is an improvement over 1 (Although, as mentioned, that Breach/Snipe/Investigate could probably stand to be clearer), it does have more content, and it is a friendlier game than Zafehouse 1, especially with a tutorial, it’s still one you’ll want to explore the UI of before you make a move, and some things still aren’t quite clear (Survivor relationships, for example, affect the quality of their work together.)

While it’s not pictured, the Breach/Investigate/Snipe button is a post-it note next to Location Summary. A *small* , two-part post-it note. It could do with being a tadge bigger.

The Mad Welshman wants to eat the rich. However, he sees better chances of doing so as a zombie than a survivor. 

Conarium (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99 (OST £1.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Conarium is a… Look, it’s a horror game, and it uses Lovecraftian imagery. So cyclopean structures, Shoggoths, Elder Things, stars and fishies, and things wot man was not meant to know. It’s also a first person horror adventure game, and there is where its flaws lie.

The Plants Have Vines, a new horror film by Wes Craven!

If there’s one accusation that is often levelled at first person horror games, it’s that their pacing and reliance on documentation can be a problem. In the case of earlier first person horror games, there’s also problems of pixel hunting, timed puzzles, and the like. It’s a difficult balance, horror against frustration against the possibility of boredom. Conarium goes the whole spectrum. But how you feel about it really depends on how completionist you feel.

If, for example, you just want to get things done, you’ll ignore the documents, and occasionally hit brick walls. Some of these walls are against your patience, as evidenced by the difference in the amount of time it took for me to trigger a literal cat-scare (At least a few minutes), compared to somebody who’d played the game before (who triggered it in under a minute), while others are “Secrets” (More on that in a bit), and at least one is a “Gotcha” death, solved by… A non-obvious handle for something else you have that you probably spent time hunting for things to use it on.

You may recall I have a dim view of “Gotcha” deaths. Even one telegraphed by something like ten seconds of reading.

This is a secret.

If, like me, you’re somewhat of a completionist, you run into an entirely different kind of frustration. If there’s telegraphing of where to find documents, I have yet to notice it, and some of the documents I’ve missed… Have been hidden in an annoying fashion. Ah yes, the one hiding on the shelf you can’t quite see, behind a bunk. The one hiding in a cardboard box that, like many computer game cardboard boxes, cannot, in fact, be moved, and is facing the wall. The one in the pile of other documents that, somehow, are not as interesting.

And sadly, some of these things are “Secret.” Hidden behind brute force puzzles, or knowing when to use your Conarium gizmo, or when to use another item, at least some of them are more unsettling and interesting than the main plot itself. Pictured, for example, is something that claims to be your character. Something well animated, definitely not human, and more unsettling in motion than it is in a screenshot. And yet… It’s a secret. Meanwhile, a lot of the stuff that’s visible? Kind of lessens the horror. Oh… It’s, er… A blob. Yes. And this thing is what it is, I can sort of guess how it… Oh. Not… Too scary. Damn.

This, on the other hand, is a cat scare waiting to happen.

I want to like Conarium. It’s definitely got some interesting ideas, and some unsettling set pieces. But, oddly, it hides many of its best away, seemingly unrelated to the overall picture in many places. Then again, it is, on the face of it, a somewhat linear game with two endings, and a variety of non-standard game overs, usually due, funnily enough, not reading things. Give it a go if you like Cosmic Horror, chase sequences, rune puzzles, the odd inventory puzzle, and, like many horror games, hoovering up pieces of paper somewhere in the mess, you know where you left it, you’re sure, it’s got to be –

The Mad Welshman has no smart aleck comments at this time. He prefers to say them in 1877.

Unreal Estate (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £1.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Unreal Estate is kind of emblematic of tiny games that work, in that while it’s undeniably perfectly fine on its own, you can play with friends, and it’s easy to learn, there’s really not much to say beyond that. The art is nice, the fonts are kinda eh, and the sound and music, similarly, is there, and that, beyond it being a mere £2, is, uh… Largely it.

The card art is nice.

Essentially, it’s a turn based card game, in which, on your turn, you either grab a card for your hand, or play a card that matches the ones on the right for the card’s value times the number of matching cards on the right. If you have more than one of that card, it counts for more, and once all players (from 2 to 4) have picked up or played a card, the rest go to the right. Rinse and repeat, until all the cards are gone or nobody can play anything, and the one with the most points wins.

Similarly, the criticisms are small: It doesn’t, as far as I can tell, have a windowed mode, nor does it have volume sliders (just sound/music on/off.)

Cue perhaps the shortest review I’ve ever written.

Cyber Utopia (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £1.99
Where To Get It: Steam

“Wait… A Wolfenstein 3d style, raytraced first person shooter, in 2017?” I asked myself, as I looked at Cyber Utopia, a game with some lovely stylings on its splash screen, but, alas, once you get into it, there’s a failure to understand that what made the Wolfenstein games and their successors so annoying at times should maybe, just maybe, have stayed in the past.

Enemies are, until the third level or so, unlikely to drop ammo.

The story, such as it is, is meant to be revealed in game, but what you’re immediately told is that you are Naomi, an amnesiac in some kind of cybernetic prison. You start… In an extremely similar position to the original Wolfenstein 3d, with a knife, the first enemy type entering the room, and bam, here you are. Kill the guy with your knife, get his gun, get to the exit of each level by finding keys, hopefully not dying to folks on the way.

But already, we’re seeing problems. And they’re nearly all quality of life stuff. Let’s start with the window, a lovely, er… 512×384. This is your only option. There is no full screen. There are no options to upscale (Which is perfectly do-able in GameMaker Studio, which is what this game was made in.) As in the oldest Wolf3D engine type games, you can only pick a pickup up if you’re facing it (Which is sort of a problem when you’re trying to grab medkits while avoiding enemy fire) , and universal ammo means that you also have to be holding the right gun if you want to fill ‘er up. Which you inevitably will, because in at least the first couple of levels, ammo is relatively scarce. While enemies are not, for the most part, hitscan, the game moves at a blistering enough pace that they might as well be… And there is no map.

Okay, here’s the door…

I get wanting to recreate that oldschool feel, really I do… But Wolf3D had mostly linear, understandable maps, and Blake Stone, which used a modified Wolf3D engine, had maps when it changed things up. Catacomb3D had a radar. So yeah, getting lost is distinctly unfun, as is trying to work out where the damn key is. Similarly, the spritework, while detailed, while obviously trying to set a scene and a mood, makes it damn hard to work out what you can interact with. Blue gates are impassible. Red ones can be shot down. Doors vary from area to area, and are mainly only recognisable because you’re forced to open at least one at the beginning of each level.

As mentioned, there are attempts to set a scene… From a prison, to what I’d have to assume is the medical wing (or maybe a torture wing? Not sure), to… A garage? It’s kind of hard to tell. Meanwhile, I really should have mentioned this by now, but mouselook, a small window, and the speed of the game make for a motion-sickness inducing experience.

…But I *appear* to have killed everything, and don’t have the key. WELP.

Cyber Utopia is, to take an old phrase, a good bad example. It’s not even really that hot on the streaming/YT crowd who have a nostalgic bent, because, from experience, the game is a sod to record. On the up side, it’s £2 , so if you really want to confirm this for yourself, then it’s perfectly do-able.