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Hacktag (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Hacktag is an odd beast, all told. And beast is quite apt here, as it’s a hacking/stealth arcade game set in a corporate world of anthropomorphic animals. Lions, does, panthers… It’s a cat eat deer world out there, and yet… It feels a little bit empty at the present stage.

For future notice, screenshots show usernames, so the black bars are to protect player identity, not actually part of the game.

That’s not to say that it is empty, but some decisions feel odd, considering 90% of the game right now is procedurally generated missions that can only be played multiplayer (in pairs, one stealth agent, one hacking agent.) Let’s start with how it is a co-operative game, but… Is scored competitively. Not gonna lie, this doesn’t entirely make sense for a whole bunch of reasons. The hacker, for example, is nearly always going to get, if you’ll pardon the pun, the lion’s share of the computer thievery done, and whoever gets started on a computer first, unless they get caught, pretty much has the points from hacking. But this conflicts with the fact that, to complete the mission, you do have to co-operate. And yes, this has an influence on your XP (+1 XP per 100 points scored)

Still, that need for co-operation is an interesting feature, and I honestly like it. Yes, a hacker could race past doors that the stealth agent can’t get through (because they need the hacker to unlock them), but the hacker is also barred by firewalls, and there are some doors that require both players to progress. Now, some of this is done with holding a button and waiting, and some via recognisable minigames such as “Hit the right arrows in sequence” and “Both players scroll through a code-list, match the codes.” These are mainly made tense by guards and online watchers, neither of which can be defended against, only avoided, distracted, or, in the case of the watchers, temporarily trapped in a single computer node by the stealth agent, and, should you be captured? You’ll be herded into a holding cell, and the other partner will have to get you out. If both players are captured, or you can’t get them out in time, then whups, run over!

The hacker’s view is at once more colourful, and, in a sense, more empty. They also move a *lot* quicker without having to worry about noise.

The emptiness, mainly, comes from a combination of sameyness, and the fact that there’s just the teensiest bit of bias toward the hacker (Beyond what we’ve already mentioned, there is, overall, more the hacker can deal with than the agent.) For all that different corporations are being raided, there will be the same sort of rhino guards, the same amorphous blob of the watchers, and, indeed, many of the same threats. The pre-mission conversations, optional as they are, also feel a little samey, with the brief following a formula, and the responses ranging from “professional” to “Extremely unprofessional.” As such, they feel somewhat superfluous. One feature I’m not so fond of is that rooms in the newer maps can randomly trigger alarms. Yes, I get that challenge has to be added, but I don’t really feel RNG is the way to go there, and I hope future releases replace this “feature” with something else. It is, if that’s not your thing and you still want to play the game, only on the newer maps as of the Sept 15th release.

Is this to say the game doesn’t have promise, or doesn’t work in and of itself? No, and no. What’s in the game works (The hacker cannot stop once they’ve taken a path, but this is explained, and merely requires more care), and the single player tutorial ran me through the concepts just fine, although I’ll freely admit I often forget I have a holographic distraction device (and mainly do alright without.) But right now, for all that there are unlockable bonuses (Such as being able to screw up certain minigames some of the time, or having less options to choose between on co-op minigames), and customisation options, it feels like the game needs to build its world, its character somewhat. If you have a co-op partner handy, you can quite happily complete a mission or two in an hour. If you don’t, well, alas, this game is currently multiplayer only, and I am uncertain if there will be any SP content beyond the tutorial. Either way, the game is currently only in the 0.1s, so there is plenty of time to see change.

There’s a lot of friendly highlighting going on, and I definitely respect this feature. Capture radii, timers, unhacked computers being white highlighted… This is definitely a positive feature.

The Mad Welshman is perfectly willing to give stealth co-op games like this their chance to shine. As noted, it’s early days yet, and I wish Piece of Cake well.

All-Stars Fruit Racing (Early Access Review)

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

Fruit is, pizza toppings arguments aside, a pretty inclusive thing. Five fruit a day is recommended for most folks, it’s often kink friendly, and at least some of it is endorsed by Donkey Kong. So when it immediately leaps out at me that a game with a variety of fruit from all around the world in a Mario-Kart style racer with a twist is… Very, very caucasian, when it comes to the current driver set, I get very sad. And not a little irritable.

While Rebecca definitely has the power that synergises with my style the best, she is also, to my mind, one of the most boring *designs* , sadly.

I mean, there’s 13 drivers left to put in the game, but right now, that’s definitely not an encouraging sign for inclusivity, folks. Which is even stranger when it also takes great pains to tell you how fruit are pretty much a worldwide thing, with awesome Fruit Facts (Which are, in fact, awesome. Props for that.)

Aesthetically, apart from that not-so-wee problem mentioned, the game is on point. The visuals are gorgeous, the tracks appear fairly well signposted, the music is funky and bouncy and cool. I like this. This is good. Equally good is that yes, this is a spin on that old family favourite, Mario Kart, in which you are in buggies/karts, and you’re racing around a track using powerups. There’s even variety in the modes. Do you randomly juice that fruit, taking the traditional route of random powerups? Do you mix your fruit, getting powerups due to the combo of fruit you have? Do you maybe have a selection, chosen with the arrow keys between Summer, Spring, Fall, and Winter, that you power up by collecting the right season? Maybe you like time attacks? Maybe you like drag races, one lap, winner takes all?

Playing catch-up can be a stressful time. Even on a 5 lap race.

Any which way, you have power ups, including the special of each character (Rebecca’s Strawberry Wing, for example, is a super-turbo, while Giselle’s Avocado Bite is your very own chompy plant, knocking back anyone who dares to be in front of your suddenly extended and quite bitey bumper), you have drifting (and drifting just right also gives you a small boost, although it must be said the AI seems to try drifting even on straights, and it seems to work.) You have jumps and boost pads, and it all works pretty smoothly. Apart from racer special abilities, however, the cars act exactly the same, compensated for by a moderately wide range of visual customisation of the vehicles, with more unlocked as you complete tournaments in career mode.

Track design wise? Even early on, you will come across tracks where the shorter path is required for first place, and some tracks feel earlier than, honestly, they should be. For all that, yes, the snaking tube track that finishes the first gear Banana Cup, for example, is an interesting track with the difficulty modifier that the blue stripe acts like a river (slowing you down greatly), it feels less challenging, for its single lap, drag style race to the finish line, than a preceding track, which involves minecarts that, if they run over you, flatten and drastically slow you, and a final stretch where there’s not just one longer path, but a longer path that splits into another, longer path.

“Look at her, Miller. Isn’t she beautiful?”

Beyond the mentioned lack of variety in racers (not mechanically, but in terms of being all white girls), a need for some form of tutorialising or reference on fruit mixing (I get by on winging it, but while I know I can mix winter, summer, autumn, and fall for things, I’d also like to know, y’know, what mixes what, even if it’s some kind of Fruitopedia. Which, to be fair, could also add some flavour to the world), a clearer sense of what each tournament contains, and perhaps the option for a slightly less vicious AI, it seems promising. The game does not currently have multiplayer, but it’s quite clearly on the roadmap, and, these problems aside, it seems like it could make a good, family friendly and fairly accessible arcade racer.

The Mad Welshman wouldn’t mind at least one villainous fruit monster in the roster. I don’t know, maybe a moustache twirling gooseberry? Obviously not suggested for selfish reasons. Obviously.

R-Coil (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: Approximately £3 ($5 USD)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

Sometimes, the breadth of what people will experiment with interests me greatly. Asteroids, for example, is a simple formula, and yet, believe me, there are games that screw with that formula, some good, some bad. But I’ve had yet to see a game that experiments in order to encourage movement in an Asteroids game, and R-Coil, by Mike T, is one such game.

The spread shot is very nice, but one of the weapons to seriously push you back. So be careful!

If you’ve ever played Asteroids, you’d have the general idea: There are rocks, and you blow them up for some score. There are enemies attacking you, and you blow them up for a better score, while trying not to get blown up yourself. As in some Asteroids games, there are nastier enemies, and bosses, and yes, blowing them up involves big points … And a higher risk of dying. There’s a variety of limited use powerups, from the Death Ray, to drones that back you up (and serve as a shield.)

But the main thing is that R-Coil, when playing with the mouse, at least, is a one button game. Tapping the left mouse button fires, while holding it down thrusts. And so, not only do you have less control over movement than traditional Asteroids, you also have to consider that weapons fire knocks you back, from “A little way back” in the case of bog-standard bullets, to “WHEEEE!” in the case of the Death Ray. It is, in the scheme of things, a small change… But it makes all the difference, and remains challenging rather than frustratingly difficult. Only a few enemies fire shots directly at you, and those can quickly be prioritised due to the mostly clear visuals on the game (Screen shake and shudder can, at the time of writing, be turned on or off to taste.)

Alas, sooner or later, your lives run out, and it’s time to put another quarte- Oh, wait, no quarters needed? Isn’t progress wonderful!

As such, the game is one of those simple to play, but hard to master type games that I kind of enjoy, and the vector style graphics (inspired by the original Asteroids games) are pretty nice on the eyes. A little less nice on the ears is the retro beeps, boops, and sine noises that come from your weapons, especially the laser, although that may be subject to change, since the game is effectively in a fairly polished alpha state. It doesn’t have much of a story to speak of, which is skippable, and this works. Games don’t always need a story. Adding to the fun is the ability to locally co-op with both other players, and with AI companions, and a duel mode with the same features.

So if you like retro shooters, R-Coil is currently available on Itch.IO, quite clearly informing you that it’s still in development, is approximately £3 ($5 USD) , and, to arcade fans like me, seems quite enjoyable, challenging without being arsey, and, generally speaking, a fun time. Worth a look.

Of course, one of the problems with screenshots is that they don’t sum up quite how the pace of the game is quick, but not overwhelming. These are but moments in a smooth experience, taken out of context.

The Mad Welshman is a fan of reworking old things in more fun ways. Why, a death ray that expands? GLORIOUS!

Pit People (Early Access Review)

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

I’ve been staring at the page for a couple of minutes now, trying to marshall my thoughts. Behemoth’s strange worlds tend to do that to you, and Pit People… Well, Pit People is a doozy, world wise. A strange, disconnected world that somehow still works, both bright and malevolent. But, before we talk about that, let’s talk about the game itself.

Not pictured: Everything is bouncing to the music. The world is very much alive.

Pit People is a game with turn based combat, but real time exploration, where you explore the shattered world to which you belong, doing quests as Horatio the Boring Blueberry Farmer and his cohorts, gathered through accident, capture, and the whim of the malevolent and petty Narrator. It also has co-op and PVP, and it’s hard enough to describe that, for the first time in perhaps ever, I’m going to be putting one of my stream videos here. Warning, there are cries of “What the helllllll?!”

A lot of them. In any case, Pit People is quite accessible (Blue and Red are the main colours), easy to learn (the various character types are fairly well tutorialised, as are weapons and armour), and a little bit grindy (You have a loot limit in exploration, meaning multiple trips or a co-op partner if you want to collect things) , but, thanks in part to the Behemoth art style (simple, clear, characterful), in part to the music (pumping), and in part to the occasional interjection by the narrator (voiced by Will Stamper, the narrator of Battleblock Theater), it doesn’t feel that much of a grind a lot of the time. Enemies can be avoided in the exploration, with cannons or with movement, battles are usually over moderately quickly (And the rock-paper-scissors type elements are easy to understand.)

Yes, I actually quite like how Pit People is going.

Story wise, it’s… A thing. A giant, dying space bear crashed into the world, shattering it and turning it into a post-apocalyptic hellscape, where its malevolent god, The Narrator, malevolently snickers and directly manipulates events. He’s taken an interest in Horatio, a humble Blueberry Farmer, and so a great adventure begins. An adventure in a world where cupcakes are people (and also delicious), Queen Isabella waits to conquer the world, and the evil Helmetites (so called because they wear helmets, you know?) bully the weak. Oh, and there are pit fights, demiclops, medusas, ghosts with keyboards… It’s all very strange. It would perhaps be unbearably so, if it weren’t for the black humour provided by the Narrator’s pettiness, and the charm of how most of the characters speak nonverbally, but somehow clearly. “After giving her half of his remaining blueberries…” , “HUH? HUMEHUHNUH!”, “NO, you GAVE her your BLUEBERRIES.”

Why yes, that *is* a Cupcake Friend. He has waffles. And buttercream…

See? Perfectly clear! Pit People is perhaps the first game where I’d recommend watching the stream video, which covers the earliest moments in the game, then decide for themselves. I happen to like it, but tastes may vary widely.

The Mad Welshman gave his ups to Pit People [HUH? HUHME] YOU GAVE YOUR UPS TO PIT PEOPLE, JAAAAMES.

Lobotomy Corp (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Lobotomy Corp is, at its heart, a management sim. You control a limited number of agents by assigning them tasks, which they take time to do, and you have perhaps more to do than you can. Manage the results.

You always start with the thankfully easy to please Hundred Sins and One Good Deed. But it quickly ramps up…

Thing is, those “results” are death, madness, and horror. Because what you’re managing is an SCP facility. For those who haven’t heard of the SCP files, it’s a community led horror universe, where the horrors are being exploited and studied (or just held in the hope that they don’t go off) by the SCP Foundation (SCP standing for Secure, Contain, Protect), and they range quite widely from deadly buildings, to monsters and people-as-monsters, to seemingly innocuous objects with secrets. Often deadly secrets. Unfortunately for you, most of the items in Lobotomy Corp are unknown to you unless you either have an encyclopaedic knowledge of SCP files. So there’s a lot of death and screaming and… Restarting.

Lobotomy Corp is not an easy game. Each successful mission (Which involves keeping said objects, monsters, and things “happy” enough to harvest some unspecified energy from them) adds a few more, only some of which are known to you from previous experience, and from the second mission on, it’s very easy to get, say, The Red Shoes, which is an instant no go area for women operatives due to its effect. Making things tougher, when some SCPs are unhappy, they lure the non-playable staff in, causing havoc all on their own. It’s interesting from a world standpoint, and very fitting, but unfortunately, makes the game feel a bit arbitrary until, y’know, you’ve worked out what a thing does and how to keep it happy. Considering each agent has four “skills”, four types of overall approach, and that, in the case of a gender or approach “liking” SCP, that agent cannot be used, it’s hard. Uncomfortably so.

WHOOPS! I DID THE WRONG THING, AND NOW WE’RE AAAAAALLL GOING TO DIEEEE.

Visually, it’s thankfully very clear. You know what things do fairly quickly, the contained things’ happinesses are in clear bars, and the game helpfully informs you, both visually and textually, when things have gone horribly wrong. In between missions, there’s chat between you and an AI, and this seems quite interesting, but the meat of the game is, really, levelling and getting agents, researching things to help your agents survive, and figuratively throwing them to the wolves to see what the wolves do.

Thing is, I’d still say to check the game out if you’re interested in the SCP universe, firstly because it’s certainly different than the various creepypasta games I’ve seen that are inspired by it, and secondly because it’s also a somewhat fitting game. Hopefully, there will be some options to tone the difficulty down some, but I can’t say I don’t enjoy the game. I’m just not fond of the restarts.

So… Many restarts. Damn you, Red Shoes. Damn you to heck.

The Mad Welshman can be found under SCP-[REDACTED]. Just so you know how to greet me at expos.