Archive for the ‘Game Reviews’ Category:

Conan: Exiles (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £33.99 base game (£21 for the “Added goodie bag” content, or £54.99 for the whole deal)
Where To Get It: Steam

NOTE: Conan: Exiles is a game that comes in 3 flavours with the same base game/maps – PvP, PvE, and Single-Player/Co-Op. The majority of the review touches on the Single-Player experience. Thankew.

Conan: Exiles is a lot of things. The problem being, it takes a hell of a time to get to a lot of it, as, originally, Conan was a survival MMO. It shows, as the single player, on normal difficulty, is… Hell. To the point where I look at other reviews, and wonder what game these folks have been playing.

Approximately 15 seconds before the *first* time I lose all my kit to this small Darfari camp, and about 30 minutes before I switch to Easy difficulty.

For example, the usual survival game rule of “You die, you lose all the stuff it took you ages to craft” comes into play. In the very early game, this isn’t so much a problem. Woo, you need to get some stone and wood, and make a sword, some plant fiber, make some clothes. Big deal. But the further you get, the more of a pain this becomes. Got iron weapons? Odds are high this means you’re taking on things that need iron weapons, which means… Good luck getting your corpse back, and equally good luck with the trek to your nearest iron deposit (hopefully restocked), fending off the beasties there, harvesting, trekking back… It’s a game with a pretty hefty buy-in to each stage of the game, time and resource investment wise, and even the gains you’ve made in terms of buildings can be undone by… The Purge. Aka “A horde of AI that attacks at randomish times once you’ve gotten to capturing Thralls.”

CONTENT WARNING: Aside from the naked bits that people joke about, Slavery is a core mechanic of the game, treated pretty much as *a mechanic* . You have been warned.

If you’ve guessed that I very quickly switched to easy mode once learning how painful it can be to progress on Normal? You are, like me, a person of sense. Although, unfortunately, this doesn’t make building (a necessary element) any less of a pain. Want those neato iron weapons? Okay, first we’ll need 540 stone for a furnace. This is the easy part. Next, we’ll need 50 bricks, and 100 iron for a blacksmi- wait, you don’t know how bricks are made? Easy, that’s 10 Stone a brick, chuck it in the furnace, and use Wood or Coal to fuel it, and… What do you mean, “WHAT?!?” , it’s only another 500 stone and 200 ironstone! Oh, and the 40 ironstone you’ll need for a basic sword, ta.

Oh, you don’t know where ironstone is, or what it looks like? Look around, or look at wiki, like… Look, if you’re going to keep complaining, player, about stupid things like “Unreal Engine games disliking alt-tabbing”, I’m just going to take my crocodiles and go home!

I detect… Mystery! Also History! Mystory?

I’m sure that Conan: Exiles has an interesting world. What it’s shown me so far has been hints of awesome locations, and, for the early game at least, I’ve been levelling up like a levelling thing (Level 24/60 as of this review.) But it hides it behind so… So much grind. Even with a couple of friends to help out with the buildings, I definitely wouldn’t be playing this on normal difficulty, because of the pain of keeping everything going, and 7 hours of play and more than a third of the way through the levelling process before hitting iron weaponry can best be described as “Extracting the Michael.”

“And PvE?” I hear you ask. “Is it any different?” Well… Yes and no. Yes, once you have some friends or have managed to join a clan, it is. Your survivability goes up. You can descend like locusts on a resource node and gobble it up. But until that point, it’s like playing on normal difficulty, with the disturbing addition of the Unconscious, players registered but not logged in, littering the landscape like the introduction of Phillip Jose Farmer’s “To Your Scattered Bodies Go.” Oh, and the core narrative conceit, that Conan himself frees you (there’s your tie in), and that Thoth Amon, for some odd reason, is the one who put the murder-bracelet on you… Kind of falls apart.

See? Disturbing as hell.

Sometimes, you have to keep going, to get a better picture of how the game pulls together. But this is one of those times where I can see my future stretching out in front of me, and, funnily enough, it does not involve gathering 200 corrupted stone, whatever the hell else that Map Room which finally lets you access the equivalent of quick travel in the game, and beating Thoth Amon’s demons. Theoretically, having a friendly group of, say, 5 or 10 players clanning up immediately would make the game flow that much easier… But even then, this feels like Game as Job, which is a distinct turn off for me.

Ironstone, so you know what to look for without a god-damn wiki, and one of the many and varied beasts that will try to kill you on the way to or while harvesting it.

The Mad Welshman is already underpaid in this job. He has no desire to take on a second for nothing.

Basingstoke (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Welcome to Basingstoke, a town filled with sausage rolls, quaint pubs, AND THE LIVING DEAD. We hope you enjoy your stay in the picturesque recycling bins, sewer pipes, and assorted possibly-safe buildings. There is no escape.

My character’s name sounds a bit like Gordon right now. There is no reason I find this fitting at all.

Basingstoke, the latest offering from Puppygames (and not the small English town, although it is set there) is an interesting game. It’s definitely an action game, but avoidance and stealth, rather than killing, is the main focus (Although weapons do exist, only a few are guaranteed a quick kill, and most of them are loud.) It’s procedurally generated, and has older game concepts just kind of strewn about, like save items, level-based gameplay, and the like. It is, in short, a mix of old and new ideas, starting with perhaps one of the older ones: Science going wrong, because a big company delved into things Man Was Not Meant To Know (Never goes wrong in a videogame, amirite?), and so Basingstoke is now a hellhole filled with zombies, mutants, aliens, and death-robots. A hellhole that you, the latest interviewee for Omnicorp, have to escape.

And it works. It works really well. Part of that is that Puppygames is no stranger to adding their own touches to arcade based play, and have a solid grasp of the low-poly aesthetic, with good sound design and occasional music. And part of this is that, most of the time, it feels fair, with the difficulty escalating sensibly, except when you screw up and trigger a loud noise, in which case the sudden horde of zombies is, definitively, your fault.

My last thought was “DO NOT RUN IN THE HALLWAYS”, oddly.

There’s also good variety in play. Myself, I mostly like non-confrontational play, creeping around, distracting enemies with sausage rolls or sandwiches, occasionally setting groups of zombies on fire with a molotov or flamethrower, if I can get hold of the salvage needed to build them. And the game supports this quite well. Get some Instant Coffee (freely available from drink dispensers, relatively common), and you can mix it with a sandwich, kebab, or the like to turn the zombie that eats it on its fellows. Or, y’know, just have a nice cup of coffee. Still, running hell for leather everywhere is, definitely on the early levels, still a valid and workable strategy if you’re clever about it.

And each has their downsides. My stealthy play, for example, is mostly slow, and I don’t get to explore everywhere. As such, my item use suffers somewhat. Running, meanwhile, attracts Tentacles, and even the twitchiest of players will occasionally get caught out by one that spawns either on top of them, or in such a way that it’s going to grab you. And in Basingstoke, one hit is a kill for your player character.

With revolutionary new RECYCLEBIN-O-VISION, you can see exactly how boned you, in fact, are.

There’s a fair amount to like about Basingstoke. For example, I can start from later levels if I really want to, and the Insurance Policy, if I can afford it, means I get to save mid-level (once.) There’s infinite retries on a level. It can turn down the flashing and gore, and it’s largely pretty clear how to play, tutorialising well. It also feels tense, without being aggravating. Yes, I can die at any second. But I know the progress from the previous level won’t be undone, and I can still try again. I know my progress overall won’t be undone. And I find myself, overall, looking forward to whatever evil thing the game is going to throw my way, be that for me, like when I made a proximity mine, or against me, like the large alien carnivores of the Underground. Well worth a look if you like stealth action titles.

The Mad Welshman sprinkled coffee, breadcrumbs, and bean juice over his egg and bacon sandwich, and smiled nastily. Somewhere, some zombie was going to have a very, very Full English day.

Austen Translation (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Austen Translation is an interestingly simple game: Spend four turns (plus some secret events) to try and get your stats (Wit, Ruthlessness, and Charm) close enough that your prospective hubby to be proposes to you, while sabotaging anyone else who might be after your beau (or… Well, just sabotage people so you’re the best match.) That is, beyond some twists and minigames, the whole thing, mechanically. Five players, local play only as far as I can tell, with randomly generated AI players if you don’t feel like filling the roster, and character generation with randomised stats, but you get to customise your lady’s looks.

Everybody got that?

Normally, this would get a “What it says on the tin”, some words about how, once again, Worthing & Moncrieff have nailed a clear, simple aesthetic with a good voice-actress for the round intros (Love the scandalised disgust in her voice when she asks “Did you really just interrupt me?” for clicking through an intro too fast), classical music fitting the theme of the piece…

…But I’ll freely admit, the narrative of the game doesn’t sit terribly well with me. See, Jane Austen was pretty good at critiquing the mores of the time, such as asking that dread question “Why can’t we marry for love, not money or standing?” in Pride and Prejudice… And Austen Translation, by parodying Austen, is almost as if Austen were playing it straight.

It’s pretty clear everyone’s competing, it’s definitely about the fat-stacks of cash the hubbies have, the losers “die in a rat-infested hovel” , and not even the odd winky asides and pleasant classical piano can really distract me from how uncomfortable it made me feel. It’s not played as being romantic, and from the outset, it’s made clear the women are going to be the dominant partners, but I still felt distinctly odd playing a narrative I’d kind of hoped we’d escaped a while back.

Mmmhm.

So, while I can’t personally recommend this, I will say again that it’s easy to pick up, tutorialises well, and has a good aesthetic going for it, with the minor niggle that maybe, just maybe, Wit and Charm could be different colours, or at least one could be made darker than the other so as to better differentiate them? It’s perhaps an interesting party game, albeit one with a narrative that, as noted, didn’t sit well with me.

I’m sorry, but I cannot accept, for my heart belongs to a man with six-degrees of freedom…

The Mad Welshman politely sipped his tea, wallet empty, and thought to himself “Thank goodness I’m a babbage-card critic, and don’t have to get embroiled in such things…”

Monster Prom (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Monster Prom is one of those games where, when the lines land, they really land, for good or for ill. Case in point, I couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness inherent in my Slayer-assisting class being a Gun-Haver (Superpower: Have all the guns) , but, earlier that game, there’d been a joke about sedating someone for drinks, and pretty much everyone playing both grimaced, and said something to the effect of “Not cool, game, not cool.”

Porn: Setting unrealistic standards for sex since 7200 BCE!

The Monsters in Monster Prom are monsters in more ways than one, you see. But to backtrack a little bit, Monster Prom is a dating sim visual novel, set in a place called Monster High (no, not that one), with local and online multiplayer for up to four players. In a very real sense, it’s a party game. Can you get your stats high enough, in the right places, over the 12 turns of a game, to find love at the Monster Prom with your proposed date? Or is something odder going to happen?

It’s a game that looks and sounds good, I’ll definitely give it that. The cartoonish style works well, it’s got a clear UI, it has a good mood to it, and the art supports the base situations pretty well. It feels fun to play with others (Especially if one or more of you is skilled in Dramatic Reading), and it’s simple to pick up and play.

The turn order can be decided in a party game fashion, or hitting the random button. Many can probably guess why we hit random here.

Which means that really, the only major reason folks might not like this game is how its humour can sometimes go places that would be uncomfortable for folks, or, at times, just plain isn’t funny. Sex mentions might put off some, drug mentions will definitely put some folks off (Aside from the aforementioned sedative “joke”, there’s also cocaine and heroin mentioned), and bullying or abusive behaviours are also sometimes mentioned (Such as the old “Stuffed in a locker” thing leading, potentially, to the “stalked through radio tag” thing… EESH.) Some are kinky and genuinely amusing (such as Miranda’s confusion about what a Leather Daddy is, or how everybody at the school reads an erotic dragon fanfic), and some are good lampshading (Oh isn’t it convenient that everyone at Monster High is over the age of consent, huh? Haha, these wacky monsters all conveniently over 18, eh?!)

Overall, it hits more than it misses with its humour, but when it whiffs, it whiffs harder than Charlie Brown playing baseball. I’d still recommend it, because it’s a good concept, mostly well executed, and you’re certainly not going to run out of events early (It speaks volumes that even the developers seem to think chasing every single event down might be a bit much, with the “get everything” event called “Honey… This isn’t healthy…”), but I would also say: Be aware that this game might, with its humour, touch on subjects you’re uncomfortable with.

You can, in fact, choose fanfic over prom-dates. Nuff said.

The Mad Welshman, a noted monster himself, is somewhat fond of this game despite its missteps.

City of Brass (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£19.48 w/soundtrack, Soundtrack £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

City of Brass, it’s safe to say, had charmed me pretty much from the first. It had some issues, which have mostly been resolved by the developers, and now, just a couple of short months from the last time I looked at it, it’s jumped from 0.5 to 1.0, full release.

And I’m happy to say that honestly, it doesn’t feel premature. In fact, it feels pretty good.

About as good, in fact, as the feeling of shoving this zombie into that spike trap.

City of Brass is a first-person, procedurally generated game in which our un-named protagonist has found the mythical City of Brass, a city cursed with immortal life by, as you might have guessed by the Middle Eastern aesthetic of the world, a group of asshole Djinni. With a talisman that grants you three wishes, a whip, and a sword, it’s up to you to enter the city, loot as much as possible, and hopefully beat the final boss and escape. It’s a game that uses smallish variations in its simplicity to add flavour and depth, and it feels good.

Let’s take the whip as an example. The whip, by itself, is a versatile tool. It lets you swing from certain places, grab loot and throwables from a distance, trigger most kinds of trap, you can pull enemies toward you with it, whip their projectiles back at them, or, depending on where you hit them, stun them, disarm them, or trip them.

And then, with a bit of money, and luck of the draw, you can give it a heck of a long reach. Or it can freeze enemies. Or it really stuns them. Clever stuff, and, if you want other examples, you can read the earlier reviews. But what’s new in the release version?

Enemies with shields remain something to be wary of. Which is still perfectly fine, gotta keep you on your toes!

Well, part of it is balancing. As an example, before, city guards were perhaps my earliest killers, because they weren’t stunned very long by attacks. Now, they stun longer when you whack them with a sword, so they’re less of a threat, and the early game is friendlier as a result. There’s also a new blessing that, on the one hand, removes your leaderboard score for the games you use it on, like all blessings (Meant to give you an easier time), but it totally removes the timer, letting you explore levels at your leisure. Nice!

But another part of it is Twitch Integration, allowing those of you who stream the game to add some interactivity and spice. While a niche feature, I can confirm from experience that this gets chaotic as hell, and, since planning around chaos is a core part of the game, I loved the heck out of it. To stroll through the first levels, only to be greeted by enemy cries in an empty room, for example, unnerved the heck out of me, which put my guard down a little later on, when my chat decided… To hit me with an entire group of enemies. Ouch. Also, nice work.

YOU DON’T FOOL ME, AND I HAVE AN EXPLOSIVE URN! WE’LL GO TOGETHER IF YOU VWIP AWAY, I SWEAR!

The Gatekeepers remain a fairly variable bunch, although they do seem somewhat more manageable overall, but, essentially, what I’ve said previously with City of Brass still stands: It comes highly recommended, a clever use of a limited toolset that makes me feel good when a plan comes together, with an interesting world, solid aesthetics, and clear, intuitive play.

Look away from the sceeeeene, I can take you anywhere! Spend a vision with me, a chaaaase with the wiiiiiind! (Rainbow’s “Gates of Babylon” remains an awesome accompaniment to this game.)