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BallisticNG (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £3.99 (Soundtrack £5.19)
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.94

Those who’ve been keeping track of my future racing endeavours may have noted that I’d had my eye on BallisticNG for quite some time, but, for one reason or another, I’d never actually gotten round to a review. So you can perhaps imagine my surprise when, after a break, I’d taken a look at this Wipeout fangame, and found… A lot of polish. The game’s come a long way from its early roots.

Yup, this is a fitting opening. The only way is indeed up… 😀

So, yes, BallisticNG is a future racing game heavily inspired by the earlier Wipeout games (1, 2097/XL, and 3) , and the usual rules apply: Several craft, each with their own quirks, pros, and cons (such as the Scorpio, which steers awfully, but goes like brown things flung from a stick), undertaking tournaments at various speed classes, with time trials, races (with and without weapons), survival mode (where you speed up regardless, and merely control steering), airbraking for harder turns, and a low poly aesthetic. To say this is extremely my jam on many levels is an understatement along the lines of “The Atlantic’s a bit damp” , and, funnily enough, this led to a lot of early criticism from me during the Early Access process, mostly to do with track design and time trial times.

Thankfully, that critique, and that of other folks, seems to have been taken on board, and the track design and difficulty curve is quite pleasant. A low pressure series of tutorials, the easier tracks in various modes… It handles pretty well. In fact, a nice touch I’ve not seen elsewhere is arranging tournaments, not by difficulty class overall, but by track groupings, so the introduction to each track is on the easier speed classes. The higher speed classes are as twitchy and nightmarish as you’d expect (Spectre and above requiring good track memorisation), and the lower speed classes feel fair, yet frisky. Good!

A beautiful place to live, ruined only by the noise of AG racers certain times of the year…

Aesthetically, the game is very much on point, with a variety of environments, craft, and tunes, all feeling good and looking fine. Add in some modding ability, with the power to import craft, create track layouts, and the like, and, honestly? There’s not a lot I can say that’s more than a niggle on the negative side, such as the base sound balance needing work.

BallisticNG, it seems, has finally achieved its potential. One set of updates before release. And that actually makes me somewhat happy.

Fly me to the moon, and let me raaaace among the space debri- ah, wait, doesn’t scan quite the same. The sentiment’s there, though!

I mean, if I wasn’t after some of the moaning I did, there’d be no pleasing me… Ehehe.

Dungeon Stars (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: First EA release.

Dungeon Stars is one of those games that mostly does what it says on the tin… But what it says on the tin is not really my thing. Because what it says on the tin is “Repetitive, simple game with some minor depth, but mostly pandering to the lizard brain with shiny things and bigger numbers.”

It’s important, with screenshots, to get across what the majority of an experience will be like. Well… This is a good screenshot.

You pick a hero, of one of three elements, and some classes. This element determines who they do more damage to, and who does more damage to them (Fire → Earth → Ice → Fire), and each hero starts with a basic attack (hammering the left key), a slam attack that gets rid of shields (hold the right key), a block for when something swings heavily at you (hold the left key), and a special ability (later becoming two special abilities and a Pet special ability, plus whatever the heck your equipped loot gives you.) You go through dungeon floors from left to right, only stopping to casually murder goblins, trolls, mages, and other assorted dungeon monsters, some of which are bosses. Beat a level, and a nice tune plays, you get some loot, and you maybe get to heal up. That’s… 95% of the game, right there.

And you know, some baffling strain on the GPU aside for its aesthetic, it does all of this perfectly well. It even drops special daily dungeons, one possibly for a pet, one for a hero, if you play long enough. The main problem, for me, is that this, apart from the possibility of seeing new gribbleys to whack by ruining my left arrow key, is… About it. There’s the same music loop, the same end tune, my current crop of heroes differs only in how they look and their special abilities, and…

Fire -> Earth -> Ice -> Fire. Simples!

…For all that it’s meant to pander to my lizard brain desire, I find myself dissatisfied. Maybe it’s the shop, random drops, 25000 coins (or one dungeon trip) to reshuffle the store. Maybe it’s that I don’t really feel that much in control, especially when dealing with mages (Who, due to the “Always runs right unless slamming, blocking, or blocked by an enemy” , often hit with their spells.) Maybe it’s that there’s no real sense of impact to the weaponry, only either quick kills (in the case of the mooks) or a bar whittling down. And I can’t really say those aren’t working as intended, because the design is clear enough that yes, this is basically what it is: A level by level damage race, running from left to right, occasionally getting items, a “secret” dungeon, or loot. It looks alright. Its aesthetic is consistent. But it just doesn’t really appeal to me.

I’m willing to forgive missing descriptions this early in the process. The not being able to see all items when you have more than 4, less so.

The Mad Welshman sometimes wonders. He wonders a lot of things, sometimes.

Spy Party (Early Access Review)

Source: Supporter Donation
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

I thought my disguise was perfect. Who would have suspected The Mad Welshman, noted vaudevillain and spotlight hogger, to dress as a distinguished old lady? Statues checked and swapped: Check. Ambassador bugged: Check. Guest list purloined: Check. All in under a minute. Time to enjoy my drink, and…

That final, fateful sip…

Well, in the middle of savouring the drink, a high velocity round, the only one the sniper has, enters through my ribcage, putting paid to my dreams of living high on villainy. My opponent calmly explains how they tagged me: They knew that the Pub was a git to see the statues in, so they suspected me from the get go, but it wasn’t until the guest list disappeared that they were sure. So close. The next game, they also steal the guest list, but on the move, so, instead of my rightful suspect, a diplomatic incident is created as the harmless old lady, who was enjoying a nice G&T, is snuffed out due to a case of mistaken identity.

Spy Party is a simple game, in one respect: There is a sniper, whose laser sight is visible, and who has one bullet, watching a party in one of several locales. There is a spy, who has to achieve a certain number of missions without getting sniped. You would think, considering that the possible objectives go up, but the number of objectives to achieve remains roughly the same through most of the difficulty levels, that it would be stacked in the spy’s favour: Anything up to 16 guests, only a few of which can be ruled out (due to being targets for the spy in one respect or another), and an average of 7 possible objectives per area.

The replay function, in combination with helpful players, is very useful for working out what went wrong… Or *so close to right, dammit*

But this is without accounting for the fact that there are any number of tells that can give you away. Sometimes, as with contacting the Double Agent, it’s loud. “BANANA BREAD”, the game declares. Sometimes, as with another game I played, they’re subtle. “Oh, you picked up your glass and went straight to the statue? The statues need to be picked up with both hands, so the AI doesn’t go to the statues unless they’re on their last sip.”

See? So obvious once it’s explained… But it caught me out. But it goes the other way, too. You can, if you’re clever (and a little lucky) grab the Ambassador’s briefcase, fingerprint it while walking, hand it to the ambassador, and bug them, all while strolling to the next conversation. One objective, and a part of a second, with no-one the wiser unless they’d already pegged you. A false contact, while the sniper’s looking at another of the two Double Agents, can get them suspicious of exactly the wrong people. There’s a lot of depth to it, and this is early days yet.

It’s not all roses with Spy Party, although it’s a solidly designed game with a lot of depth… The lobby’s an old school IRC type deal, with a little reading of the manual needed to understand how to, for example, make your own room (it’s /mr “[room name]” , by the way) , but playing publicly is currently alright, with players often explaining how they got you.

The Dossier, while not quite finished, nonetheless shows you what you can do, and is thus a useful source of tips… For both sides!

Spy Party is multiplayer only, but it’s definitely a multiplayer game I can get behind, one with depth in both perspectives, some good old fashioned psychological warfare, and a clever premise, well executed. Games are 1v1, and, if you have friends, it’s best to make a room, but if you want a multiplayer game with thought required, this is definitely one to look out for.

The Mad Welshman will snipe you. He’d snipe your little dog, too, but, y’know, Intelligence Service budget cuts…

TERRORHYTHM (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.2.0

What is it with fun-hating dictators? So often in a game, a dictator comes to power, and the first thing they do is ban something fun, like music, or skateboarding, or dabbing and twerking…

…Okay, I have yet to encounter those last two, but I’m sure it’ll come up someday. In any case, in TERRORHYTHM, the thing that’s been banned is music. So, in true video-game revolutionary fashion, not only are we going to defy the endless hordes of the Not-Actually-Great Leader, we’re going to do it with rhythmic beatdowns!

Oh dear. Yep, this doesn’t look good for our rhythmically pounding hero…

The basic idea is that, from left and right, enemies will stream, sometimes big, sometimes small, and you have to fight them to the rhythm. Left and right does basic attacks, down expands your area of influence (as do certain weapons taken from enemies for a limited period of time), and up charges a move where you smack multiple enemies in a direction at once (useful for when they’re grouped up, too close to attack one at a time.) Of course, where the depth comes in is that different enemies change that basic game plan, and you have to adapt. Some enemies (and small groups) can only be beaten up safely with the charged attack, some require multiple attacks, and others cannot be attacked with the charged move. And those are but a few examples.

Suffice to say, the main obstacle to enjoying TERRORHYTHM right now is its difficulty. Although adjustable to some extent, it’s taking me about three or four tries to clear early levels, and, of course, it’s a score attack game, so I’m reminded, every level, that I’m not doing so hot. Still, it’s got its charm, as the base tracks are threatening, pulsing EDM (lots of saw, lots of bass), the aesthetic is similarly hard edged, and enemy types are clear to see as they stream in.

The Tron style Chakram allows you to attack at any range… For a limited time.

In essence, it’s a promising start, and being able to use your own music in the game is a definite plus (I tried it to CoLD SToRAGE’s “Canada” , and died horribly every time), its base gameplay loop works just fine, but it’s quite tough, even after some early balancing. Still, it’s early days yet, and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

No, really… Somebody’s going to end up making a game where a dictator bans twerking. One day…

Angels Fall First (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.37 (No, really. Soundtrack £4)
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: Update 18

Flying through space in a giant brick with guns, with fighters swarming around me is, perhaps, one of the more powerful moments I have. Yes, the giant space brick (A Heimdall Lineship) steers like a cow, and it’s somewhat hard to see exactly what I’m aiming at, but that’s not really mattering too much, because all of my guns are firing, enemy ships are dying, and, in my own small, confused way, I’m contributing to the capture of the Ixion space station.

On the one hand, this thing steers like a brick with strings. On the other, goodness me, it makes things explode!

This is just one moment of Angels Fall First’s gameplay… In a 64 player botmatch. Well, 63, minus me. And it feels good.

A quick catch-up: Angels Fall First is a science fiction multiplayer team shooter, along the lines of a Battlefront, Battlefield, or COD, with space and ground based missions, a bewildering variety of builds, weapons, and vehicles, and locales, that essentially boil down to either taking an objective, destroying an objective, or defending an objective, supporting both multiplayer and solo, bot driven play.

Aesthetic wise, it looks good. Chaotic, but good. Everything has a chunky style that gives at least some idea of what people are using (I can tell, for example, a sniper by the long barrel as they run, or a heavy by the fact that their armour is bigger and chunkier), and the music is properly pounding and theatrical, changing as the battle comes to triumph… or disaster. Elements of the UI are somewhat confusing (The radar in the lower left, for example), and, sadly, the game’s loadout function isn’t as helpful or informative as it maybe could be, but being able to save your own custom loadouts for later use, working them out in botplay, then using them in multiplayer does help somewhat.

Yup, that sure is a thing I’m seeing… an LAV and a Mech fighting side by side, while infantry like me scream and hide.

So, it looks pretty good. It feels pretty good. It’s got its flaws, mostly to do with informing the player what their loadout does and what it’s good for. How’s the AI play?

Well, the AI is very objective focused. What this means in practical terms is that, on the one hand, defending in Incursion mode (where the attacking party has dropships that can be destroyed, but the defending party can’t regain any objectives they lose) is a tough proposition… But on the other hand, the AI is so mission focused that a player can, if they survive long enough to get to the dropships, do some serious, unregenerated damage, perhaps destroying a dropship in a single life. That’s highly chancy early on, when the enemy is pretty much streaming from a single LZ (so your chances of getting to the dropships are low), but once I got to the dropships… Well, the ship defends itself, but the AI infantry tended to only take potshots before heading off to their designated objective from the dropship. So that needs a little bit of work.

I don’t mind this *so* much… After all, I still feel like a badass for doing it. I just probably wouldn’t be able to against human players. XP

Still, for a small team, this is a big game, with customisation options out the wazoo, a variety of weaponry (and the weight of your loadout does matter), and a bunch of ships and maps. Even in Early Access, even with things it needs to iron out, this gets a thumbs up from one of the more multiplayer averse reviewers out there.

The Mad Welshman hasn’t really favoured multiplayer since Bad Company 2. That should give some idea…